by Fabio Bozzo
The last two French elections basically confirmed the predictions. In the presidential round of April 10 and 24, 2022, French society showed a marked political sectorization in the first round, while in the runoff, outgoing President Macron prevailed over Marine Le Pen with 58.54 percent against his opponent's 41.46 percent. Nothing new under the sun: the identitarian Right consisting mostly of the Rassemblement National represents the relative majority of the French people, but to date the "cordon sanitaire" of all center and left forces have blocked his march to the Elysée.
But France is a semi-presidential republic: therefore, the president, however institutionally preeminent, must deal with parliament. And this is where things have become as entangled as they have been since the cohabitation between President Mitterand and Prime Minister Chirac in the 1980s. In the general elections of June 12 and 19, 2022 (thus just two months after the aforementioned presidential elections) the Ensemble electoral cartel, Macron's parliamentary emanation, ticked 38.57 percent, compared with 31.60 percent for the NUPES (a coalition of all left and far-left forces) and 17.30 percent for the Rassemblement National. In terms of seats, this translates into 245 elected Macronians, 131 Social-Communists and 89 Lepenists (despite these numbers, the second largest parliamentary group was the Rassemblement National from the outset, as the Left created four different and often discordant groups). In short, Macron no longer has an absolute majority in the National Assembly, which in political jargon makes him a lame duck, although the variegated anti-Macron majority has antipathy toward the president as its only common denominator: this leaves the Elysée incumbent ample room for maneuver in parliamentary votes, albeit at the cost of grueling political bargaining.
Therefore, the Elysée in 2022 faced a twofold challenge: the declining support of the quintessential governmental parties and Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Faced with this situation, Macron has been busy with considerable diplomatic activism, meeting with the Kremlin ruler and trying to carve out a role for himself as peacemaker and, perhaps, super partes arbiter. All to no avail, for as we wrote in another article, from 1940 there is no going back, so France despite Macronian attempts to carve out a zone of autonomy (an eternal broken dream since the days of De Gaulle) has had to fall in line with the rest of NATO: full military and diplomatic support for Ukraine and economic sanctions on Russia. Certainly Paris maintains a more dovish profile than the most prominent European anti-Putin hawk - London - but this is not because of French moderation so much as British determination to bring down the current Russian regime.
If nothing else, the unrewarding figure of a middleweight who would like to play at the heavyweight level (another eighty-year-old French mistake) has yes shown that France does not have the strength to implement its own truly autonomous foreign policy, but that at least it occasionally tries to do so in a manner similar to and contrary to the United Kingdom, which (especially after Brexit) takes full advantage of its Special Relationship with the U.S., managing to maintain its not insignificant role as Washington's favorite ally. From Italy, on the contrary, absolute nothingness, despite our country possessing Europe's fourth largest economy and the advantage of having cultivated good relations with both the US and Russia for years. Diplomatic ineptitude verging on shame, the analysis of which would lead us to insights into Italian politics that are beyond the scope of this article.
Back to France. The Russian-Ukrainian war is still ongoing and the front has essentially become mired in a wearisome positional war that cannot last indefinitely. In redefining the postwar balance, Paris will be faced with four possibilities:
- continue undaunted with childish post-Gaullist attempts to create its own, at least partially autonomous geopolitical space in the shadow of the world contention between the two superpowers America and China;
- veering "westward," that is, following in the British wake and turning into a champion of Atlanticism in order to avoid becoming increasingly irrelevant in a European Union that seems destined (as long as it exists) to turn into an economic, and therefore political, vassal of Germany;
- try, on the contrary, the "Eastern way," i.e., cementing the relationship with Berlin (where a more autonomous geopolitical formula from the U.S. has been sought for some two decades). In this sort of novel Carolingian empire, previously referred to as Framany, Paris could, at least at first, compensate for Germany's greater economic strength with larger armed forces, equipped with more armaments and possessing a nuclear deterrent;
- the "Latin" or "southern" path, the most difficult, but which for French pride would be the least worst. That path would see France seek to create an ever closer association with Spain and Italy.
Let us try to briefly analyze the pros and cons of the four potential strategies that Paris will have to choose between now and a year from now.
The Gaullist option is the safe used of Paris foreign policy. Its results have always been miserable and a few times in history have even thrown France a mix of discredit and ridicule. However, pride is a foundational element of the French national character, and the other options are fraught with difficulties and doubts, so it is likely that Paris will ultimately remain what it has been since 1958 to the present: an Atlanticist state that occasionally throws tantrums, which are indulged by Washington with a shrug of the series, "That's the way they are ... but they come eventually."
A "westward turn," i.e., a return to the fully Atlanticist pre-1958 French geopolitics (to the extent that before De Gaulle the NATO command was based precisely in Paris) would be the wisest solution, but it is at the same time highly unlikely. By now it is clear that the Gaullist "third way" has always been and always will be little more than a joke. This is because France will not only always be weaker than the real superpowers (yesterday the US and USSR, today the US and China), but today in Europe its influence is outclassed even by that of Germany. An organic return to the side of Washington and London would allow Paris to be a heavy voice where it is really in charge and to become the valuable watchdog of some as yet undefined German continental ambitions.
However, as mentioned, such a path is unlikely. The French mentality is shaped by a pride that often swerves into arrogance and which Gaullism has made almost institutionally anti-American (if not in substance then certainly in form). Moreover, Macron's current relative political weakness counsels against excessive Atlanticist detours, as both the Left and the Leftists (for opposite and parallel historical-political reasons) are perhaps more allergic to the U.S. than De Gaulle himself ever was. For these reasons, if the President demanded an official reintegration into the U.S. geopolitical system this would be seen as humiliation by the Right and as collaborationism with imperialism by the Left: the result would be a permanent parliamentary Vietnam in the National Assembly.
Opposed to the Atlantic way is the neo-Carolingian way, which would see Paris link up with Berlin in order to create a true continental bloc which, like an irresistible gravitational center, would in a few years draw almost all European states to itself. But this is a very risky game, for which France does not hold the proper cards. Neo-Carolingian Framany would inevitably be German-led, while all the small and medium-sized countries from Belgium to Greece would become more than they already are dependencies of Germany. France, by virtue of its size and armed forces, would endure more and better, but would eventually see its foreign and economic policies managed by Berlin according to Berlin's interests. History teaches that Germans are disinclined to compromise when it comes to money, and the French, this time rightly so, would quickly run out of patience.
Finally, there is the last chance that Paris could try, namely, the "southern" or "Latin" route. From a cultural and linguistic point of view, greater French-Italian-Spanish integration would have fewer difficulties than many other options; moreover, it would create a bloc with a specific weight impossible to overlook and curiously reminiscent of the borders of the Western Roman Empire. But if this option for France appears to be the most promising, it is also the most fraught with obstacles. An eventual "Latin union" would inevitably be driven by Paris for its own geopolitics, always done under the banner of "I want to but I can't." For Italy and Spain it would be a very poor deal. Madrid would lose its enviable position as a country at once marginal but crucial to NATO and the European Union, getting in return to get entangled in French adventurisms from which it has little and nothing to gain. Our country, on the other hand, net of a shamefully nonexistent foreign policy, to date is a key building block (indeed an aircraft carrier) for the Atlantic alliance in the Mediterranean and in the North possesses a medium-sized industry tied in knots with that of Germany. Faced with this pair of aces (we repeat: which Italy does not weigh in the slightest) Paris has little to offer, apart from an ideal of grandeur that does little to appeal to the souls of a cynical, pragmatic people lacking deep national sentiment such as the Italian people.
Unlike France, Italy has almost always been able to recognize its limitations. Nowadays the main one is that of being both rich and weak: the perfect prey. Under these conditions it is impossible for our country not to be the secondary partner of a major power, so since vassals one must be, better to have distant Washington as a majority partner than nearby and historically more unpredictable Paris or Berlin.
Graduated in History with modern and contemporary majors at the University of Genoa. Essayist, he is author of Ucraina in fiamme. Le radici di una crisi annunciata (2016), Dal Regno Unito alla Brexit (2017), Scosse d'assestamento. "Piccoli" conflitti dopo la Grande Guerra (2020) and Da Pontida a Roma. Storia della Lega (2020, with preface by Matteo Salvini)