Tue, 09 Aug 2022

French President Emmanuel Macron - badly bruised during parliamentary elections that took away the absolute majority of his party group Ensemble - will focus on international politics during the last days of France's presidency of the European Union.

The week ended with the EU Council meeting, the last chaired by France. On Sunday, the G7 gathers in southern Germany. On Monday, Nato members meet in Brussels and June ends with the Lisbon Ocean meeting.

Ukraine topped the agenda at the EU meeting.

According to a 29 point conclusion written up by the "France22" presidency, the Brussels grouping repeated its "resolute condemnation" of Russia's invasion, said anti-Russian sanctions will continue while providing military support and macro-financial assistance to Ukraine.

But the most anticipated outcome was the EU granting the largely symbolic "status of (EU) candidate" for Ukraine and Moldova.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the decision. But angry Balkan leaders criticised Brussels over their stalled bids to join.

The Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, warned against any unreasonable hopes for a speedy process.

"North Macedonia is a candidate for 17 years if I have not lost count, Albania since eight, so welcome to Ukraine," Rama said.

The Kremlin downplayed the decision. Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called it a domestic European affair.

"It is very important for us that all these processes do not bring more problems to us and more problems in the relations of these countries with us," he said.

Macron said that the decision by EU leaders sent a very strong signal to Russia that Europeans support Ukraine's pro-western aspirations.

Georgia has not received the honour yet.

According to an EU memo, the country suffers from a long list of shortcomings, including too much political polarisation, state institutions which are not sufficiently independent and accountable as well as corruption. A process called "de-oligarchisation" has not made enough headway, says the memo.

Powerful signal

Macron, as the leader of one of the world's seven most industrialised nations, will join EU leaders Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen at Schlos Elmau in Bavaria for a yearly G7 meeting, which this time is hosted by Germany.

A G7 communique says the group must send out a powerful signal of unity in suuch turbulent times. "Solidarity and close cooperation are needed to mitigate the impacts of Russia's war against Ukraine," the communique added.

Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal and South Africa are invited as well.

Apart from the Ukraine situation, G7 members also appear concerned about the rise of China.

Much of the meeting will focus on promoting partnerships for infrastructure and investment to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative, and "cooperation on foreign and security policy" which may include more assertive cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

Climate, food security and the fight against cyber crime in the shape of "a rules-based digital governance" will also be discussed.

The group of industrialised nations that now constitute the G7 was created during the oil crisis in 1973 with the US, West Germany, France, the UK and Japan. This "Group of Five" then expanded with Italy in 1975 and Canada in 1976.

In 1997, Russia was included in what the became the G8. But after its takeover of the Crimea peninsula in 2014, it was expelled from the group.

'Right to self defence'

Most of the G7 leaders will then join the Nato summit in Madrid, between 28 and 30 June.

The Ukraine crisis seems to have accelerated the alliance's determination to strengthen itself once more.

"Strong military and financial support" is provided "to help Ukraine uphold its right to self-defence," according to a statement on Nato's website, stressing that this is "enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

"This builds on years of Nato training and assistance since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014," the statement adds.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, formerly neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden have announced their willingness to join the alliance.

Nato will also launch its key Strategic Concept which is reviewed every decade or so.

The last Strategic Concept was adopted at the Lisbon Summit in 2010. The new one will build on elements of the 2010 Concept that are still relevant and show adjustments to Europe's new strategic order.

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Meanwhile, Macron has been trying to navigate France through a maelström of geopolitical pitfalls.

Apart from the Ukraine crisis, there is the growing concern about China's increasing influence in the Pacific, which directly affects French interests in New Caledonia and French Polynesia. There are also tensions with Australia, and plans to build a stronger Europe-based defence force that is less dependent on Nato.

'Main counterpart'

In a June essay published by the prestigious Montaigne Institute, former top diplomat Michel Duclot points out that the Ukraine conflict has led to a split within the EU, with Macron more in favour of a dialogue with Russia against the harder line of the Baltic States and Poland.

Duclot suggests Macron should position himself more strongly against Russia, while stressing Nato's central role as Europe's defence mechanism.

France should also try and limit the effects of the sanctions for developing countries, which see the Ukraine problem as merely a western problem.

30 countries commit to do more to protect the ocean at One Ocean Summit in Brest

In a televised meeting with African Union leaders on 20 June, Zelensky struggled to generate interest of the few African leaders that showed up.

They worried more about the increasingly dire food situation that is developing in Africa as a direct result of the war between two of the world's largest grain suppliers.

France can play a role here, says Duclot. "It should listen better to the concerns of countries hit by the effects of the war and the sanctions," he added.

Regardless of whether France has the EU presidency or not, Macron is Europe's "main counterpart of US President Joe Biden," according to Duclot.

This means they must discuss sharing responsibilities in America's increasingly strong focus on the Indo-Pacific region - where France has significant interests as well in the shape of New Caledonia and French Polynesia, islands surrounded by vast stretches of French-claimed ocean.

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France's relations with the US and Australia suffered a severe blow with the creation, in September 2021 of the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the UK and the US which resulted in the cancellation of a billion dollar submarine deal with the French ship builder Naval Group.

But ties are being mended as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is to meet Macron in France next week.

Plastic pollution and marine life

The last of the summits Macron will attend concerns nature. The UN Ocean Conference (27 June - 1 July) in Lisbon is co-hosted by the governments of Kenya and Portugal.

It was launched in 2017 and offers a platform for heads of state and government, civil society representatives, business people, academics and scientists to discuss the disastrous impact of global warming, pollution and over-fishing on the ocean's eco-structure.

The French government's Biodiversity Office intends to take the lead, with the launch of a Marine protected areas, biodiversity and climate change partnership.

In February, Macron hosted the One Ocean Summit in Brest in north-western France, where ideas were presented for an international treaty to combat plastic pollution, protect the French Antarctic, and develop marine protected places on the high seas outside of any one country's jurisdiction.

Originally published on RFI

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