Don’t expect Macron’s win to reset Britain-France ties – POLITICO

LONDON – The re-election of Emmanuel Macron as French president has eased some of the complicated Franco-British relations – but don’t bet on a snap election entente cordiale Now.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quick to emphasize the similarities after the victorious French leader defeated far-right challenger Marine Le Pen this weekend, telling reporters on Monday that he and “Emmanuel” had been able to “work closely in Ukraine.” to work together”. a few weeks and months.”

“We share a very common, very similar perspective, and Western unity, NATO unity, has been absolutely critical to the stance we chose to oppose [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. And that’s going to continue now – and that’s very, very reassuring to me,” Johnson added.

Both capitals recognize that Franco-British relations are vital; that Britain and France are Europe’s biggest defense players while Russia is at war on the continent; and that geographic neighbors always have political rifts.

But British officials – who have previously blamed the French election campaign for disputes with Macron’s government on everything from post-Brexit fishing rights to a nuclear submarine deal with Australia and the treatment of undocumented migrants – don’t expect that a major diplomatic reset will follow the outcome.

Instead, they are targeting more modest gains and hoping for more dialogue between the two leaders in the coming months.

And despite Johnson’s hopeful comments, the mood music pouring out of the French government on Monday wasn’t drastically different either.

Asked if Macron will try to restore his relationship with French Economy Minister Johnson said Bruno Le Maire The government’s top priority “will not be the relationship between Britain and France” but “strengthening French unity to address all concerns raised during this election”.

Charles Grant, director of the think tank Center for European Reform, predicted there would be no restart in Franco-British relations until Johnson is no longer prime minister and warned that the contempt for the British leader in the Élysée should not be underestimated .

“The truth is, Macron doesn’t like Boris Johnson at all,” Grant said. “It’s not just electoral politics – he’s really fed up with Johnson. [The French] think that Johnson is not an honest or serious person to deal with. This will continue.”

Indeed, the bad blood between the two leaders has regularly made headlines, last year with the satirical magazine Le Canard enchaîné reporting that Macron called Johnson a “clown” in a private conversation, and Britain’s Daily Mail wrote that Johnson called the French “shit” for their behavior during the Brexit negotiations.

The prime minister’s spokesman insisted on Monday that Macron and Johnson have “a good working relationship,” as evidenced by recent G7 summits and other high-level meetings.

Politics splits

Foreign policy experts argue that while the beginning of each approximation will have to be political, it will also require a policy shift from Britain on one of the biggest ongoing sores: Brexit.

Paris and London are already at loggerheads over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, which sets trade rules across the Irish Sea and aims to both protect the EU’s internal market and avoid a politically tricky hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It has proved politically toxic with Northern Ireland union leaders, while cross-border companies have complained about excessive red tape and London has repeatedly flirted with suspending it unilaterally. Macron’s second win is likely to mean that Paris – already speaking harshly about Britain’s threats – will play an even more crucial role in shaping the EU’s response.

But the war in Ukraine also complicates the Brexit question – possibly in Johnson’s favour. The British have earned much recognition among the Baltic and Central European countries during the conflict, with these traditional allies of the UK now expressing their gratitude for London’s quick response to their call to strengthen security on their borders with Russia.

That has internally divided the EU over how to react if Johnson’s government tears up the deal, and a diplomat from a major EU country said he realized the Ukraine war had made it harder for member countries to come up with a coordinated response if the UK Prime Minister does so.

“If, because of the collapse of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the [European] Commission proposes that [EU-U.K.] Trade and cooperation deals – they were going to propose that in December – quite a lot of EU member states won’t want to treat the British that harshly,” Grant said. “Macron will have a hard time getting the whole EU to crack down on the UK over the Ukraine war.”

When it comes to Brexit, there are other EU policy factors at play that could also help prevent a fresh start.

Grant pointed out that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen needs to keep Macron on her side to secure her re-appointment after the 2024 EU elections. That means Maros Šefčovič, the Commission Vice-President and Brexit front man, might struggle to offer the Brits compromises on the protocol, even if he wants to.

UK not top priority

Brexit aside, Paris has bigger fish to cook.

Given the importance of the Paris-Berlin axis to EU politics, Macron is expected to prioritize building his fledgling relationship with recently-elected German Chancellor Olaf Scholz over working with Johnson.

The French president will also continue to push his ambitious agenda for the bloc, including a controversial push for the EU to develop “strategic autonomy” – a source of past tensions with Britain, particularly over the development of sensitive technologies and competition for investments .

“Because Macron has made the EU a central pillar of his domestic and foreign policies, it is difficult for France to ignore the British government’s attitude towards the EU, which France sees as combative,” said Georgina Wright, director of the institute’s Europe programme Montaigne in Paris.

Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group, said both London and Paris recognize that the stress in the relationship is unsustainable for neighbors and allies. She believes the decisive win will give Macron “the reassurance needed to start treating the fracture” – but doesn’t expect miracles.

“I hope we will see some olive branches from either side of the canal, but I think that will only come if a sense of mutual respect can be cultivated,” she said. “The divisions between France and Britain have been politically forged but are being escalated by politics and will only be resolved through investment on both fronts.”

London and Paris could draw closer together this fall if the US midterm elections prove a challenge for President Joe Biden. “The G7 must find a way to work together constructively without America always being in the driver’s seat,” Gaston said.

Johnson’s spokesman acknowledged that there are disagreements over the Brexit protocol and other major policy disputes such as inter-channel migration. Be he insisted the UK government is “focused on resolving some of these bilateral issues”.

“None of this should affect the close UK-France relationship that endures,” he said. Don't expect Macron's win to reset Britain-France ties - POLITICO

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