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Macron Suggests EU-Russia Talks. Meltdown Among EU, US Apparatchiks Follows.

Summary:
French president Macron, in his opening speech of his six-month term as EU president, might as well have poked a stick in a nest of hornets. He had the temerity to suggest that avoiding war with Russia was a good idea, that the EU was an interested party and should have a seat at the table. As the Guardian recapped the Macron speech: The EU must open its own talks with Russia rather than rely on Washington, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has said as he warned of the prospect of the “most tragic thing of all – war”. In a wide-ranging speech in Strasbourg, Macron said it was not sufficient for the US to negotiate with the Kremlin over its threats to peace but that Europe needed to have its voice heard. Macron said he hoped to revitalise four-way talks between Russia, Germany, France

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French president Macron, in his opening speech of his six-month term as EU president, might as well have poked a stick in a nest of hornets. He had the temerity to suggest that avoiding war with Russia was a good idea, that the EU was an interested party and should have a seat at the table.

As the Guardian recapped the Macron speech:

The EU must open its own talks with Russia rather than rely on Washington, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has said as he warned of the prospect of the “most tragic thing of all – war”.

In a wide-ranging speech in Strasbourg, Macron said it was not sufficient for the US to negotiate with the Kremlin over its threats to peace but that Europe needed to have its voice heard.

Macron said he hoped to revitalise four-way talks between Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, known as the Normandy format, to find a solution to the escalating crisis.

The French president, who was speaking to mark the start of his country’s six-month presidency of the EU, told MEPs: “I think our credibility vis-a-vis Russia lies primarily in entering into demanding dialogue.

“And we see that looking at the dialogue that the US and Russia are currently undertaking. I think that it is good for there to be coordination between Europe and the US but it is vital that Europe has its own dialogue with Russia.”

Officials in Brussels insist that Russia has not been able to divide the west in recent months as it has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine.

But for all the protests of a unified approach, the EU was sidelined from talks held last week between Russia and the US, Nato and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The fact that Macron is a grandiose neoliberal does not mean that he is not occasionally correct. The US in its current staredown with Russia is acting as if EU interests are of no import and it can treat the continent as an American satrapy. And the fact that the US froze the EU out of the latest round of negotiations means Macron, speaking on behalf of the EU, has a legitimate grievance.

A smaller but still important potential benefit of Macron having spoken out of school is he’s forced a discussion of the EU’s and France’s interests in escalating with Russia into the open. Macron ha broken through what is called Hallin’s sphere of deviance. Historian Daniel C. Hallin in his book The Uncensored War, on Vietnam, described how the press draw lines around what issues can be covered. As Wikipedia summarized:

Hallin divides the world of political discourse into three concentric spheres: consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance. In the sphere of consensus, journalists assume everyone agrees. The sphere of legitimate controversy includes the standard political debates, and journalists are expected to remain neutral. The sphere of deviance falls outside the bounds of legitimate debate, and journalists can ignore it. These boundaries shift, as public opinion shifts.

Saying that the EU’s interests with respect to the Ukraine are not the same as America’s was verboten in the mainstream English language press. It’s as if Victoria Nuland never said “Fuck the EU”….which come to think of it either didn’t or only just barely got orthodox media mention.

And there might be a bit of “Revenge is a dish best served cold” operating too:

What is striking is the vehemence of the reactions to Macron’s remarks. There’s a theoretical objection that he shouldn’t have blindsided the EU security apparatus, whatever that amounts to (one assumes the same sort of stealthy grifting flexian power brokers as in the US). But there was no way Macron could deliver such a message with pre-consultation without being pressured to water it down greatly. So one could view this speech as yet another demonstration of Macron having an exaggerated sense of his and France’s importance, or of it also being true that if he wanted to get the EU’s seat at the table back, he’d need to cause a stir.

Reactions on Twitter were mainly jingoistic. One of the few exceptions:

The pink paper also has an account claiming that unnamed officials in France and Brussels tried to walk Macron’s remarks back. From Paris and Brussels reassure US after Macron’s call for EU-Russia talks:

France and the EU on Thursday sought to reassure the US that the Europeans remained committed to Washington-led negotiations with Russia over averting further conflict in Ukraine, after French president Emmanuel Macron called for a distinct EU dialogue with Moscow….

French officials insisted that Macron’s call for an EU dialogue with Russia was not in opposition to the continuing US negotiations and was designed to strengthen rather than undermine Nato unity.

“We are in favour of very close co-ordination with the US,” said one of Macron’s advisers. “We find it strengthens the hand of the French and the Germans in their negotiations with Russia . . . The Americans are talking to the Russians to deal with a disorderly and profoundly dangerous situation.”

On Macron’s suggestion of a separate EU dialogue with Russia and his call for a European proposal within weeks to build “a new security and stability order” that would then be discussed among Nato allies, the adviser said: “It’s called co-ordination, reforging European unity and reinforcing the unity of the Nato alliance.”

EU diplomats said Macron’s call was the “first time” that Europe-only talks had been mentioned by Paris, while another suggested that France’s push had not been co-ordinated with partners before the speech.

I don’t find this to be persuasive. When Biden very clumsily suggested that the US would make a proportional response in Ukraine, he walked it back within 24 hours. We’ll see what if anything Macron says tomorrow. The effort to try to put the Macron remarks genie back in the bottle looks a lot like political operatives defending their pet interests and relationships.

And it’s notable that the Financial Times quotes one unidentified Macron adviser…who sure looks like he was out of the loop as far as this speech was concerned. As for the EU diplomats, we’ve seen over the years of the FT’s coverage of Europe, first in the 2015 Greece debt negotiations and then Brexit, that its sources among European diplomats are far narrower than those of Tony Connelly at RTE, and on top of that are biased towards friend of the UK, as in Eastern Europeans. So while it does seem likely that Macron didn’t give anyone in the EU a head’s up, if the did, it sure wouldn’t be them.

Similarly, this section amounts to an official non-answer in diplospeak bafflegab:

When asked if the European Commission supported Macron’s proposal, a spokesperson said on Thursday that the EU’s approach to Russia was being formulated “within the framework of the ongoing contacts and co-ordination, both within the EU and between the EU and the transatlantic partners such as the US, Canada, Nato and the OSCE”.

However, a substantive bit emerges:

Following Macron’s statement, which was applauded in the Strasbourg assembly, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell had a phone call with US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg where they agreed on the need for “a strong, clear and united transatlantic front”, according to a readout from Borrell’s team.

I welcome criticisms from those who know Europe and the EU better than I do. However, whether by accident or design, the description of Borrell talking to Blinken comes off as implying that Macron has no legitimate voice in this controversy. That’s false. The EU Council has the final say on European foreign policy. Borrell reports to the EU Council. Macron sits on the EU Council.

And during Brexit, Macron at key points, albeit often irritatingly, would stand up for certain principles, sometimes by himself, sometimes with only a small bloc of supporters. Even though Macron seldom got what he asked for, more often than not he did have an impact.

However, timing has worked against Macron slowing the US war train. The opening EU presidency speech was a logical venue for Macron to make his case. But that was Wednesday and the next round of talks, from which the EU has again been excluded, is Friday in Geneva. So even if Macron’s intervention reached a sympathetic audience beyond MPs, it’s too soon for his ideas to have achieved enough momentum to have an impact.

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