French President Emmanuel Macron clinched a parliamentary majority on Sunday, when his en Marche party won more than 300 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, giving the pro-EU, centrist president a strong mandate to pursue his vision for the country.
What Macron’s defense and security policies will look like remains unclear. But signs point toward closer European security cooperation. After the deadly Manchester, England terrorist attack in May, Macron said, “Beyond solidarity, it’s obviously European cooperation that we need to reinforce, in the field of intelligence, information sharing, the protection of our common borders.”
And Macron has made clear his intent to work with another major European power – Germany – in rebooting the European project, including in the area of defense and security. Macron wants to use the “Trump moment” to complete the EU, said Frederic Bozo, Professor of French History at the Sorbonne and a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy.
“Trump reminds people it [European security cooperation] is important,” said Thomas Wright, Director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. But “the gaps are still massive,” he added.
For instance, France is more strategically minded than Germany and the rest of the EU, noted Wright. Historically, France has been Europe’s military power, while Germany has held the economic reins. “We may have the nuclear bomb,” a senior official in the French president’s office famously said shortly before German reunification in 1990, “but the Germans have the deutsche mark.”
France is the only nuclear power in Europe, besides the UK, which is soon leaving the European Union (the Brexit negotiations started today). And France maintains an activist and interventionist foreign policy.
“The projection of French power abroad is still very much embedded in French political culture,” Georgetown professor and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Charles Kupchan told The Cipher Brief, adding, “French support for a continued robust role overseas remains strong.”
Kupchan, who was the senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council in the Obama Administration, noted, “In Iraq and in Syria, the French have been quite active and very steady partners of the United States in the counter-ISIL mission. France and the United States have also been working closely together in Africa, where the French have taken the lead in various counterterrorism operations, including in Mali.”
But not every European country views Islamic terrorism emanating from the Middle East and North Africa as a top security threat. Many eastern European countries – like the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – view Russia as the top threat. Because of these differences in the diagnosis of the security situation in Europe, Wright said he’s “not hugely optimistic” about further European security cooperation, even under an EU-minded Macron who wants to work with Germany to revitalize the continent.
NATO throws in another complicating factor to how European defense and security policy will emerge in the coming years. With the UK – Europe’s mightiest military power – out of the EU, NATO will be the main platform for EU-UK defense integration. Macron and Merkel will want to maintain security relations with the UK through NATO, while at the same time, there has been new buzz around the idea of an EU army.
Wright said the EU army concept is “an illusion,” noting France and Germany and the rest of the EU do not want to duplicate NATO. “What would it be used for? Under what conditions? Where’s the command [and] control?” asked Wright.
But while the EU army is unlikely to ever be formed, the European Commission just this month outlined plans for a European defense fund to cover procurement and research, in a nod to further European security cooperation that is likely to come.
“Germany and France, in particular, will need to play a central role in a European defense system that is able to make decisions and act potentially without the United States [under the Trump Administration],” Josef Braml, the German Council on Foreign Relations’ U.S. expert, told The Cipher Brief.
With Macron’s parliamentary victory giving him the power to govern, and with his desire to lead Europe alongside a Germany whose chancellor recently said Europe must “take our fate into our own hands,” after President Trump’s contentious visit to Europe in May, the world appears to be watching a stronger European defense apparatus beginning to emerge.
Kaitlin Lavinder is a reporter at The Cipher Brief. Follow her on Twitter @KaitLavinder.