Macron’s Sorbonne II speech: A Machiavellian Moment for Europe?

Emmanuel Macron's Sorbonne II speech indeed marked a pivotal moment for Europe, one that echoed Machiavellian principles in its strategic depth and political maneuvering.

Emmanuel Macron’s Sorbonne II speech indeed marked a pivotal moment for Europe, one that echoed Machiavellian principles in its strategic depth and political maneuvering. In this address, Macron demonstrated a keen understanding of power dynamics and the necessity for Europe to assert itself on the global stage.

President Macron’s Sorbonne speech was undeniably impressive, even visionary. His ability to articulate such a comprehensive vision for Europe’s future and discuss it with the passion one reserves for their own “country” sets him apart as a leader. However, the translation of these ambitious concepts into actionable plans is crucial. Some of the proposed deadlines may appear optimistic, and the journey from ideal to implementation in politics is often a challenging path fraught with obstacles. It’s essential to recognize that deviations may occur along the way, but perseverance and adaptability will be key to realizing these aspirations.

The Need of Pragmatic Realism in Policy Proposals

What’s crucial in shaping Europe’s future course is a pragmatic and honest assessment of what is feasible, especially concerning proposals like the capital market union, common defense capability and financing, or an autonomous industrial policy. Take, for instance, the ongoing discussions around the capital market union since 2014, highlighting the complexity and duration of such initiatives. The aspiration to secure substantial investments, ranging from €650 billion to €1 trillion, underscores the magnitude of the challenge. Expecting achievements within a single year may be overly optimistic given historical trends, especially considering the evident differences in liquidity and policy prioritization among member states within a centralized supervision framework.

The proposal to bolster public funding by broadening the EU’s revenue streams, such as through mechanisms like the Carbon Border Tax (which may invite new WTO disputes), a financial transactions tax applied only by France, and levies on multinational corporations’ profits, represents a significant step forward. Despite discussions over the past decade with limited visible progress, revitalizing these proposals, as the President has done, is timely.

In essence, while Macron’s vision is commendable, achieving substantive progress within meaningful short timeframes necessitates ambition coupled with a realistic understanding of the intricate dynamics within the EU landscape.

Bridging Divides for Global Competitiveness and Political Unity

Macron’s proposal stands as a bold initiative aimed at revitalizing European industry and reshaping the continent’s social landscape. His call for Europe to pursue strategic economic and defense autonomy, positioning itself between US and Chinese influences, has sparked serious concern in the chancelleries of Eastern European Member States and the Baltics. These nations, acutely aware of the threat posed by Russia and the security provided by US military presence in Europe, are wary of any suggestion of Europe breaking away from US alliances for an independent defense destiny. Additionally, they maintain a more pragmatic view of dependence on US and, to some extent, Chinese manufacturing, and technology.

As both an Eastern European and French citizen, what I had hoped to hear in Macron’s speech is a deeper recognition of Eastern Europe’s contributions to the Western European project. Beyond token acknowledgments of their resistance to Soviet influence and their role as a bulwark on our eastern borders, Eastern Europe’s integration into the global economy in the early 1990s brought significant benefits. While it ushered in an influx of ideas, capital, and innovation resulting in improved institutions and economic management, it has also precipitated a notable and ongoing outflow of Eastern Europeans.

Despite strides towards Western-style democracy, the rule of law, and a social market economy, Eastern European countries still lag in key strategic areas, with Western European dominance persisting, particularly evident in international institutions. This entrenched control, including in leadership selection processes, fails to reflect the shifting global power dynamics within the EU. There is an urgent need for Western European nations to adapt to these changes and embrace a more inclusive approach that acknowledges and integrates the contributions and perspectives of all regions.

Macron’s speech eloquently outlines his ambitious vision to propel Europe into a position of global leadership across five critical sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, the space industry, biotechnology, and clean energy. However, it’s also imperative to acknowledge the pressing need to address the substantial gap between Western and Eastern Europe. Alleviating this gap will support unity in EU foreign policy and prevent escalating disparities with countries like China and the USA, both of which currently outpace Europe. Urgent action is required to bridge these divides and fortify Europe’s competitive standing on the world stage.

European Strategic Autonomy: Prioritizing Production and Policy Shifts

Another important issue addressed in Macron’s speech is the prioritization of European production in vital areas such as defense and space projects, the suspension of competition rules in sectors like AI and green technologies, and the enshrinement of European preferences in EU treaties. France’s EU Commissioner has been relentlessly pursuing these goals. This strategic shift reflects Macron’s belief that Europe should react and be less naïve when major players like the US and China flout their WTO obligations through substantial subsidies. Macron does not go as far as to suggest the EU should follow suit in flouting WTO rules, but he calls for a tougher, more Eurocentric policy grounded in reciprocity and leveling the playing field. However, he does not fully address this issue in his speech.

In conclusion, Macron’s speech underscores the urgency for Europe to confront its geopolitical challenges head-on. Mere acknowledgment of the growing capabilities of regional powers like Russia and Iran is insufficient. Europe’s response to these challenges will define its geopolitical power and standing on the world stage. A pragmatic approach, akin to Machiavelli’s insights, is needed to safeguard the EU’s survival and assert its influence in shaping a more secure global environment. And let’s be honest, Machiavelli’s philosophy strongly aligns with the current geopolitical landscape, where prioritizing the safety and liberty of one’s country sometimes requires setting aside traditional moral considerations. Machiavelli was not a devil; he was a patriot.

Macron’s call for a return to an industrial focus and his warning about the potential demise of the EU highlight the gravity of the geopolitical risks at hand. This shift aligns with his broader vision of revitalizing Europe’s strategic position. After 35 years since the end of the Cold War, Europe’s trajectory has strayed from our aspirations for lasting peace as evidenced by conflicts like the Kosovo and Ukraine Wars. Economic turmoil and security challenges have exposed significant gaps in Europe’s crisis management capabilities, emphasizing the need for proactive measures to prevent conflicts and foster stability.

In essence, Europe must heed Macron’s call for decisive action and adopt a pragmatic strategy rooted in safeguarding its interests and ensuring its survival. Only by confronting these challenges head-on can Europe assert its influence and contribute to shaping a more secure and stable global environment for generations to come.

Cristina Vanberghen
Cristina Vanberghen
Dr Cristina Vanberghen, Senior Expert at the European Commission, EUI, WICCI’s India-EU Business Council and the Indian Society of Artificial Intelligence and Law.