To argue that the European Union lacks a vision for the future seems a commonplace observation. If there is a politician who largely acknowledges the problem and publicly proposes practical solutions to chart a different way forward, it is French President Emmanuel Macron. Despite some resistance in implementing his policy ideas to reform the eurozone, Macron remains determined to continue with his efforts. Beyond the modus operandi of the eurozone, he focuses on European security dilemmas.
The French president has been criticized for calling NATO “brain dead.” However, his comment should rather be seen as a wake-up call. While US President Donald Trump is correct in pushing member-states to spend more on defense, he sends the wrong message by regarding the Alliance a bit like a golf club, thus questioning its role in the world. More importantly, Macron does not hide his skepticism about the behavior of Turkey and its implications for the future of NATO as well as for stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. To bury their heads in the sand might be convenient for some politicians. But being able not to is a gift that only true leaders possess.
Greece and Cyprus are well aware they can count on France to support their cause at the European level. Athens, in particular, needs to do more to cultivate stronger collaboration with Paris. It is now time to look to history. In 1959, Konstantinos Karamanlis decided to work on closer Greek-French ties at the bilateral and multilateral level. President Charles de Gaulle embraced the ideas of the Greek leader and hosted him in the French capital in 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963. In 1963 de Gaulle also visited Athens, where he was cheered by an enthusiastic crowd. With his original and creative diplomacy, Karamanlis paved the way for shaping the stance of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing in dramatic moments for Greece and Cyprus a decade later and safeguarded the backing of France in Greece’s European orientation.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotsakis – who seeks to bring Greece back to the core of Europe – could not find a better partner to work with than President Macron. Joint Greek-French diplomatic initiatives will only help. Mitsotakis and Macron successfully cooperated in China during the recent Shanghai international trade exhibition and represented two important EU countries. They are both keen on defending European interests but refrain from approaching China in Manichean or ideological terms. On the same wavelength, Macron is a pioneer for a new European thinking vis-a-vis Russia and Africa and believes Europe can do a better job of handling transatlantic relations. Even his model for the EU enlargement reflects his interest in seeing the Union working better than simply being a cozy home for its members. Macron could also be motivated to revive Nicola Sarkozy’s project to bring more interconnectivity in the Mediterranean where Greece’s contribution will be crucial.
Konstantinos Karamanlis said in 1960 that “Greece and France were destined to have the same mission in the world, being united by common intellectual and human ideals, freedom, equality and fraternity.” This is certainly the case nowadays. The roots of history are deep. And history matters more if it is used to offer models for the future.
Dr George Tzogopoulos, senior fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and Centre International de Formation Europeenne (CIFE), teaches international relations at the Democritus University of Thrace.