Macron’s Cheek: Daring to Tell Brexit Nationalists They Are Wrong

AP Photo/Amr Nabil

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the French Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. 

It is quite the most extraordinary interference seen in European politics since Winston Churchill repeatedly told continental European between 1945 and 1951 to unite and get their act together to create what he called a “European Union” to prevent forever the two world wars Europe had been plunged into in the first half of the 20th century.

Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government rejected Churchill’s appeal and treated with scorn the idea of cooperating economically by placing steel and coal industries under joint European control with guarantees that coal and steelworkers would have a central role in how their industries would be run.

Now France’s President Macron has sent an unprecedented move has sent an open letter to most EU citizens via newspapers in all EU member states.

Not even General de Gaulle had what the French call the culot—the barefaced cheek—to tell every other European nation what needs to happen. Of course the Macron-bashers will describe his intervention as arrogant and he should get on with cultivating his garden as Voltaire put it by sorting out France’s weak economic growth and calming down the Gilets jaunes—the Yellow Vests—the longest rolling protest movement in France since the upheavals that began with the May event of 1968 when Paris was occupied by protesting then rioting students that merged into a general strike and de Gaulle’s ouster in 1969.

In fact, the Yellow Vests have transformed Macron’s approach. Gone is his self-proclaimed Jupiter style as he got down and dirty to spend up to 14 hours a day in town hall meeting up and down France to meet protestors and hear the grievances but also to point out that you cannot cut fuel duty and hand on a healthy planet to the next generation, and that you cannot cut taxes and simultaneously increase transfer payments or let many in France retire on a full pension while being fit and young enough to work.

Above all, Macron keeps insisting in major, lengthy, properly thought-out speeches at the Sorbonne and in Athens that France can only succeed if Europe succeeds. Like Churchill in the Commons in 1948 who spoke of “countries acquiring an enlarged or enriched sovereignty through membership of a European Union” Macron is determined to posit the idea of union in Europe against what he defines as the threat of Brexit nationalism.

In a direct assault on British politicians who have been lying about Europe to bring about the rejection of European partnership voted in the 2016 plebiscite Macron tells the rest of Europe: “Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the EU market? Who mentioned the risks of to peace in Ireland?” 

He does not mention Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn by name but both have been conspicuous in not telling these truths to their fellow-citizens. But like the rest of European leader Macron has written off the current generation of British political leaders who have refused since June 2016 to speak openly and honestly about what amputating Britain from Europe entails

Instead, he uses the sorry picture of Brexit Britain with no economic future, the governing party in chaos, and the opposition party wracked by anti-semitism accusations—also a major problem in France where researchers claim that 26 percent of the noisy and sometimes violent militants in the Yellow Vest movement have made anti-semitic statements—to highlight the need to bring under control the new populist nationalism.

“Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is a rejection without an alternative. The anger-mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.”

Far removed from the Brussels bureaucracy blah-blah Macron calls for a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies to protect elections against cyber-attacks and manipulation.  In a dig at Russian and U.S. money-power interfering in the Brexit vote and backing nationalist politics in France and Italy, Macron calls on Europe to “ban the funding of European political parties by foreign powers” and the creation of a “European Agency for the Protection of Democracies against cyber-attacks and manipulation.”

As hate politics rises in tempo across Europe and especially in Brexit Britain Macron urges “European rules banishing incitement to hatred and violence from the internet. Macron does not mention by name Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán, and other apostles of a white Christain Europe of closed border nationalisms but he admits that 21st-century Europe “failed to respond to its people’s needs for protection from the major shocks of the modern world.”

In a swerve to the left reminiscent of Jacques Delors’s appeal for Social Europe in 1988 that so outraged Margaret Thatcher, Macron says Europe “needs to introduce a social shield for all workers, guaranteeing the same pay for the same work and a EU minimum age, appropriate to each country, negotiated collectively every year.” Even the anti-EU Len McLuskey of the Unite union might sign up for that.

Macron’s thesis will now be tested in the European Parliament elections in May. It is fashionable to say the hard nationalist right is poised to take control of he European Parliament—a thesis much promoted by Professor Matthew Goodwin. In this cross continent intervention Macron is taking the battle to the enthusiasts for a nationalist Europe. It is as big an intervention as Churchill’s endless calls for a united Europe after 1945.

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