Emmanuel Macron
© AFP / Ludovic MARIN
France's President Emmanuel Macron.
Will transforming into a pro-American version of the fiercely independent Charles De Gaulle wash with the public?

At the Paris military event in honor of Bastille Day on July 14, infantry troops from nine countries - France's NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria - were the first to march along the Champs-Elysees. The French state-run radio broadcaster RFI called this event a "parade under the banner of Ukraine."

By inviting states from the Bucharest Nine to open the celebrations, "France is demonstrating its support for these countries as members of the EU and NATO," the French Ministry of Defense stressed. "The countries in the Bucharest Nine are now concerned about Russian aggression and the immediate threat it poses {to them}."

Colonel Vincent Mingue, commander of an 800-strong French-Belgian detachment stationed in Romania, said: "We must be ready for all scenarios," explaining that there is no sense at the moment of how far the conflict in Ukraine will go.

Such a vague statement from a French army colonel, combined with the sensational statements Macron made about France's transition to a "war economy" at the opening of the Eurosatory exhibition in Villepinte, is cause for concern.

Is France headed down the path to war? Will its support for Kiev end with the supply of CAESAR self-propelled artillery and Milan anti-tank missiles? The revision of Paris' existing military programming law (LPM 2019-2025, unveiled in July of 2018), which was announced by the prime minister, Elizabeth Bourne, appears to be a large-scale project. "Now, on entering a period of war, we must be able to produce certain types of equipment more quickly and intensively. This is a deep reorganization," Macron said at the end of June, commenting on the work set out for the French Armed Forces Minister and Chief of Defense Staff.

Macron's strategy regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, in the early stages, consisted of an attempt at a diplomatic settlement, which was accompanied by numerous calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, at the end of April, a decision was made to send Ukraine CAESARs, followed by a batch of Milans. The French government thus replaced humanitarian support with military aid. By June 7, Paris had sent Ukraine military equipment totaling over €162 million since the beginning of Russia's military offensive, according to the Kiel Institute of World Economy. This is mainly howitzers and ATGMs.

Interestingly, this selective assistance to Kiev in the form of 155mm howitzers directly corresponds to the recommendations of the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) lobby group, which is funded by the arms industry.

In a special report released in July entitled "Ukraine at War: Paving the Road From Survival to Victory", it is noted that Western countries should streamline the support they provide to Kiev and move from supplying large amounts of weapons requiring special training to more targeted ones. Thus, the Institute's specialists note that Ukraine needs 155mm howitzers in particular "to prevent Russian troop concentration and support."

"France is supporting the Ukrainian army not only in the form of verbal commitments, but also through the deployment of equipment on site... accompanied by effective training and, above all, rapid deployment," Marcon said in Madrid at the end of the NATO summit, last month.

Thus, the military frontier has moved from Africa to the borders of Eastern Europe. On June 14, the president visited French soldiers stationed at a NATO base in Romania. This was followed by statements about the need to increase the number of the country's military personnel in the region and even equip the contingent with Leclerc tanks in the second half of 2022.

Macron's image of a diplomat has been replaced by that of a military commander. Over the past two months, his 'militarization' and increasing commitment to the conflict have become noticeable. Earlier frequent calls for dialogue between Russia and Ukraine have given way to regular statements asserting that "Kiev is a democracy" (despite the fact that it isn't) and "Russia cannot and should not win."

At a press conference following the G7 summit, the French president said that "support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia will continue as long as necessary and with the necessary intensity over the next weeks and months." Since the beginning of June, he has increasingly used his speeches to exhort the Ministry of Defense to revise the military spending law for 2019-2025. In an interview with the TV channel TF1 on July 14, Macron said that France needs to continue recruiting for the army and that such efforts should be boosted as much as possible. Perhaps, given his rising disapproval rating, Macron has rolled out this 'General' style to save his presidency.

Meanwhile, it's worth recalling that relations between Macron and the army have been quite tense from the very beginning of his tenure in the Élysée Palace, a time when he skillfully played the role of the clever banker and former economy minister by focusing on European integration. In 2017, at the very beginning of his term, Macron had quite a quarrel with the then chief of the French defense staff, Pierre De Villiers. The reason for the row was Macron's intention to reduce the military budget and it ended up leading to the resignation of De Villiers (the first chief of defense to resign in the history of the Fifth Republic).
Emmanuel Macron and General Pierre De Villiers
© Agene France-Presse
Emmanuel Macron and General Pierre De Villiers
In the end, following a wave of protest from the Ministry, Macron ended up not cutting funding for the military. The generals, who were determined to form a long-term foreign policy strategy, were then outraged by Macron's statement addressed to De Villiers that "I'm your boss." The president's relations with the army frankly did not go well. Later in 2021, more than a hundred retired French generals published an open letter in the magazine Valeurs Actuelles that called for "saving the country from disintegration." "Our senior comrades are fighters who deserve respect... You've treated them like rebels, although their only fault is that they love their country and mourn its obvious fall," the letter stated.

The military stressed that a "civil war" was brewing and called on the president to pay more attention to internal security. The generals pointed to Macron's oblivious migration policy, which could lead to the strengthening of Islamists, and drew attention to the possible beginning of a "race war" in France, a kind of "clash of civilizations" - French and Islamic. "Violence is growing every day. Who would have predicted ten years ago that a professor would someday be beheaded upon leaving his college?" the authors of the letter wondered. Moreover, they contended that a coup d'etat was possible in the event of inaction by Macron. The letter was supported by Marine Le Pen, who has been criticizing the French leadership's 'open borders' policy for a decade and called upon the generals to join her election campaign.

The conflict with the military came to a head in March of 2022, when the president dismissed the head of French military intelligence, General Eric Vido, for "shortcomings in the work of intelligence during the Ukrainian crisis." Meanwhile, the lack of a unified coordinated strategy in Africa led to the shameful withdrawal of troops from Mali, where anti-French sentiment reached a boiling point even in the media sphere with a ban on state-controlled France 24 and RFI radio.

But now Macron, who had always been far from military affairs and has butted heads with the army's top brass on many occasions, has begun to position himself as an ultra-militarist, calling for the introduction of a 'war economy'. This is quite an interesting and abrupt change of persona.

Given the reduction in Russian oil and gas supplies, not to mention the anti-Russian sanctions that have hit the French economy like 'hara-kiri', as aptly put by Marine Le Pen, the idea of transitioning to a war economy seems less than wise for the French population. Macron's disapproval rating is growing rapidly. In a recent survey conducted by the IFOP international polling and market research firm, 63% of the respondents said they disapproved of the job the president is doing.

And the lack of an absolute majority for Macron's party in parliament indicates a decrease in the legitimacy of the president's agenda. It is extremely symbolic that, having lost popular support, three ministers appointed by Macron failed to win their districts. In French politics, a situation when the president does not have an absolute parliamentary majority is called 'cohabitation'. This means the president's legislative agenda cannot be fully implemented because it can be rebuffed by parliament.

A similar situation arose in the Fifth Republic in 1988, when the main legislative acts were forced through in an expedited fashion via an appeal to Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, which allows the government to take responsibility for implementing a bill and to adopt the text of a law without a vote. Michel Rocard, the prime minister at the time, invoked this article 28 times between 1988 and 1991. However, after France's constitutional reform of 2008, the application of Article 49.3 was significantly limited.

The bet on an aggressive foreign policy agenda has played a cruel joke on the president: the conflict in Ukraine worries the French less than pension reforms and their declining purchasing power. Given this, the NUPES bloc led by the Melenchon movement and Le Pen's National Rally party, which have focused on solving the country's difficult post-pandemic economic issues, have turned out to be more attractive to voters. Melenchon's and Le Pen's admonishment of NATO's expansion to the east and their more balanced foreign policies have also found support among the portion of the French population that still preserves the memory of the 'golden times of Gaullism' and the general's continentalist, anti-American political stance.

Major scandals have also had a negative impact on the president's approval rating: the sale of the French company Alstom to the American firm General Electrics and the McKinsey case, as well as the Ubergate scandal, which is gaining momentum. All three are symbolically connected with American corporations. The McKinsey case, which appeared on the eve of the presidential election, was highlighted by a report from the French Senate that described the affair as a threat to national sovereignty. The American consulting firm had been working with Macron since 2017, and by 2021 it had received a contract to develop a number of pieces of legislation with a remuneration of $1 billion. The report from the French Senate stated: "Consulting firms interfere in public policy, which raises two main issues:
  • What is our vision of the state and its sovereignty in the face of private firms?
  • Is this a proper use of public funds.
The recent scandal with Uber once again exposed Macron's lobbying mission in promoting the interests of the American corporation. When he was the economy minister, Macron supported the legalization of the company's activities in France and helped circumvent the difficulties that arise in various regions when the taxi services market is dominated by a large monopoly. Bastien Lachaud, a deputy in the left-wing France Unconquered movement, described Macron as "serving the interests of scammers, not the people." And a representative of the National Rally party, Jean-Philippe Tanguy, said that Macron is "a representative of the business oligarchy" who mixes "his functions as a high-ranking official and foreign interests with his personal ones."

So now we have growing uncertainty in foreign policy, a sharp turn from a diplomatic to a military image, increased military support for the Kiev regime, the introduction of a 'war economy' for France (despite ongoing friction with a number of army generals), soaring inflation, the energy crisis, unpopular reforms, and numerous scandals.

Macron has five years to go in his current term. A half decade of 'Macronie' and a war economy? How will that go down?
Daria Platonova is a political observer with the International Eurasian Movement