PARIS ― By remaking France and seeking a more federal Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron can make the continent a global player again.
Though the youngest president in modern French history, Macron is wasting no time in his quest to reboot his country and continent. The 39-year-old’s chief aim is to remove the roadblocks to dynamism that have left Europe behind the curve of innovation. His success in reforming France and bringing Europe closer together may be the best chance for the West to preserve its civilizational presence as America retreats from the world and China rises.
Macron is uniquely placed for such a task. Here’s why.
1. He understands the importance of innovation and is committed to it.
Macron sees no reason why Europe can’t create tech champions like Google and Facebook in the United States or Tencent and Alibaba in China. In fact, one of his first acts in office was to announce a new tech visa and invite entrepreneurs from around the world to visit France and help make it a “startup nation.” Macron publicly extended a hand to “the pioneers, the innovators, the entrepreneurs of the whole world to come to France and work with us on green technologies, food technologies, artificial intelligence, on all the possible innovation.” The president said he “want[s] France to be a nation that works with and for startups, and a nation that thinks and moves like a startup.”
The world today, the young president argues, is “innovative and changing at a speed that had never been imagined before.” Because of this, he wants ”[the French] government to be different … not a government which regulates everything.” For Macron, the role of government should not only be to regulate and sanction. It should be to help support and facilitate success.
“'I want [the French] government to be different … not a government which regulates everything.'”
This remarkable turnaround for the French dirigiste mentality follows on the heels of Macron’s appeal to scientists in the immediate wake of America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord to come to France and work on climate change solutions. And he made that appeal in English, the global language of innovation.
2. He’s a pragmatist taking the world head-on.
Macron appears to be just the new kind of political leader the West, and Europe in particular, has been looking for ― and desperately needs. Someone not bound by partisan allegiance or imprisoned by the ideological dogmas of the past, but someone who looks at the world as it actually is. Someone who knows that building up his own country is not in contradiction with global cooperation, but the precondition for it. Someone committed to figuring out how to sustain the fundamental values of liberty, equality and fraternity in the age of globalization amid both the opportunities and perpetual disruptions of digital capitalism.
In short, Macron is someone who can lead us into the future.
3. He is someone who can lead the West as America retreats.
For the moment, the political leadership in America has turned inward, dwelling in the nostalgia of an ideal past instead of facing the challenges of a complex future, preferring to sit on the sidelines as other major powers not aligned with Western values shape the future. China is energetically charting its own version of globalization, reviving the old Silk Road trade routes and embarking on a massive infrastructure investment initiative to tie together the world from the Far East to Eurasia to Africa.
On its face this is, of course, a good thing. China and the West need to be indispensable partners, not inevitable rivals. But absent of equally robust global engagement from the U.S. and Europe, the long-term outcome will mean a world in which the values of the West are sharply diminished.
“The political leadership in America has turned inward, dwelling in the nostalgia of an ideal past instead of facing the challenges of a complex future.”
If we look at the future from this perspective, it has become clear that the U.S. can no longer be relied upon to lead in the coming crucial years, as the usually understated German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared. Given this reality, the other pillar of the West ― Europe ― must take up the mantle and, as Merkel also has said, “take [its] fate in [its] own hands.” And in those hands also rests the fate of the West.
But Germany is not Europe. Europe is above all, at its core, France and Germany. Only together can the two countries drive Europe as a whole forward and sustain a Western ballast in the global order in coming decades. For that to happen, France must lead the way in opening up Europe’s entrenched rigidities while pursuing deeper integration.
4. His dedication to the European cause can save the continent.
His determination then, which prevented the project of a common union from coming to a crashing halt, was a premonition of the decisive quality of judgment behind his stunning ascent to power in France without even a party. We hope that is a premonition of the role he will now take on the European and global stage.
Some have compared Macron’s skillful recomposition of the French body politic to former French President Charles de Gaulle’s political genius in an earlier time. Others say he has already restored gravitas and dignity to the presidency that, as with de Gaulle, rests again on a “certain idea of France” rather than on the narrow partisan appeal that had taken over politics in recent times. Still others even see an echo of Napoleon in Macron’s ambition.
“Can Macron do peacefully what Napoleon sought to do as a conqueror — unite Europe?”
Can Macron do peacefully what Napoleon sought to do as a conqueror ― unite Europe? Today, uniting Europe on the 21st century terms of integrating national sovereignties while aerating its stolid practices and institutions is no less ambitious. But it is only such vision married to ambition that will, in the end, save the West.
President Macron breathes fresh air into the stagnating cause of European unity. Renovating the European project by bringing a new dynamism to a fading dream is the only way to secure a critical role for the West in a post-American world in the throes transition. Macron’s success in this endeavor would be a success for all of us.
Let’s hope his winning streak continues.