France Is Back in the Mediterranean

Mael Balland/Military port, Toulon, France

“The Mediterranean must be exclusively the French sea. Its entire trade belongs to us, and anything that tends to distance other nations from it must be part of our views.” So said Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, one of the most celebrated and distinguished diplomats to serve in the name of France. Like the career of Talleyrand himself—which spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the years of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s empire, Louis XVIII’s restoration, and Louis-Philippe’s July Monarchy—this statement of manifest destiny transcended both ideology and regime. It could hardly be otherwise; the Mediterranean has served as a conduit for France’s power, development, and identity for its entire history.

Today, that connection has been frayed by several generations of abandonment. Following defeat in the Algerian War in 1962, many French elites began to instead pursue a desperate focus on European integration as a way to retain a path toward international influence. While France would persistently maintain a presence in Africa, the pursuit of a close relationship with Germany would take center stage.

During this period, France’s postwar influence in Europe was seemingly at its height. French was overwhelmingly used as the working language of the European institutions up until 1995, with pained British diplomats even agreeing to use French in order to join the European Communities in 1973. President Georges Pompidou went so far as to claim that if Europe were to ever use English as a working language, it “would not be completely European,” and attempted to codify French as the official language of the European institutions. France was not alone in its views. Before the end of the Cold War, nearly every member state of the EU also preferred French to German as a foreign language, with many even preferring French to English. As a collection of only a handful of states that mostly shared foreign policy priorities, it was easy to conceive of a Europe with the coordination and means to develop into a superpower.

However, following the successful reunification of Germany in 1990, and the mass accession of much of Central and Eastern Europe into the European Union, French foreign policy elites saw their position erode. The 2004 expansion of the European Union, spearheaded by German Chancellor Gerard Schröder and supported by Scandinavia and Britain, solidified this unfavorable new reality. Eight new EU members east of the Elbe were brought in, and their geopolitical proximity to Berlin meant a vastly deeper connection to Germany than to France. This policy was aligned with Schröder’s remarks illustrating the will to govern Germany “as a great power in Europe” oriented toward “fully acknowledged self-interest.” With French policymakers ultimately finding themselves outmaneuvered, German economic, geographic, and cultural leverage now had the advantage in the European Union, and English prevailed as the new lingua franca.

European expansion created a divide in geopolitical desires. Many states of the 1995 cohort were also habituated toward an existence of peaceful neutrality; the 2004 cohort was and remains deeply interested in the hard power offered by the United States and NATO against Russia. This undermined not only France’s position, but even the original geopolitical goals that had led France into Europe to begin with. French President Charles De Gaulle had vetoed the admission of the UK into the European Communities precisely due to its connection to the U.S., as well as due to his suspicion that London would never develop the political will to raise Europe into a superpower with martial competency. But by 2005, the European Union was filled with a plethora of states that the characteristics that De Gaulle, and many other French administrations, had aimed to exclude from their project.

The diminishment in Europe forced French elites to think about neglected frontiers on which to project national power and influence. Beginning in the 2000s, a southward turn began among the French leadership that would doubtless have brought a smile to Talleyrand’s face.

In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy—at the time still a presidential candidate—began to make speeches about the need for a “Mediterranean Union,” encompassing all nations around the ancient body of water. He presented the European and African sides of the sea as a “community of destiny,” lauded the philosophical achievements of “belief in a single God…putting Man at the center of the universe for the first time,” and spoke about a shared culture of “joie de vivre.” Sarkozy described the European lens of the Mediterranean as one invoking “the feeling…of a return to the source, to the origin of his own thought, of his own identity.”

In these speeches, Sarkozy asserted a sense of Mediterranean cultural continuity shared by Europe and Africa. By rhetorically positioning France as the keystone between these two worlds, Sarkozy revealed ambitions of returning the balance of power in Europe to Paris.

In pursuit of France’s Mediterranean return, President Sarkozy and his advisors sought out an unlikely ally: Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s longtime anti-colonialist ruler. Traditionally considered a pariah in the Western world, Libya had only recently been removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in the late 1990s following a campaign to clean up its image. In 2005, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi put his father in contact with an ambitious Sarkozy before his ascendance to the presidency. As heads of state, this relationship initially proved fruitful; Dassault Group, a major French civil and military aeronautics firm, profited greatly from a hungry new client.

France and Libya enjoyed only a short honeymoon. Sentiments began to waver after Sarkozy cautiously refused a request by Gaddafi for a French security guarantee in the case of an attack from a third party. While France was pursuing a new political order in the Mediterranean, Gaddafi was more interested in bolstering his own ambition to be “King of Kings” in Africa. The relationship had come to a head; France’s leaders began to contemplate alternative arrangements.

An opportunity thus presented itself amidst the chaos of the Arab Spring, which shook much of the Mediterranean to its core. In early 2011, the French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy introduced Sarkozy to the leaders of the National Transitional Council (NTC), a rebel faction that had arisen in Libya. Afterward, Sarkozy decided to betray Gaddafi by declaring the NTC the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people. A “Coalition of the Willing”—initially under joint French and British leadership and operating under NATO—conducted military operations against Gaddafi’s government. By 2011, the coalition had secured a rebel victory; Gaddafi met his end in a ditch, captured and killed by rebel soldiers. The Mirage-F1 fighter planes used to destroy his regime were the same kind he had ordered from Paris less than four years before.

The collapse of Libya’s ruling government was only the beginning of a new reality, however, as Islamist political groups and militias eventually continued a much more extensive fight for power. Though French elites did not realize it at the time, Sarkozy’s relatively bold southward foreign policy focus, as well as events in Libya itself, would only become more important in matters of French strategy in the coming years.

As the Arab Spring turned into an Arab Winter, ISIS and the specter of Islamist terrorism became major security threats, and refugee flows skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. But this upheaval also began to spur ambitious French leaders intent on bringing France out on top in whatever balance of power resulted. Out of this environment rose one of the most prominent advocates of France’s Mediterranean expansion: Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Raised in a working-class Bretton Catholic family, as a student Le Drian affiliated himself with socialism. His interest in Africa began early, when he spent time as a tutor in Algeria at just 18 years old. After eventually rising through the ranks of regional government in Brittany and the Socialist Party, he began to serve as Secretary of State for the Sea under President François Mitterand in 1991. Though he held the position only briefly, his competency put him on the map of the French establishment. Later, President Sarkozy would attempt to bring his deep understanding of security affairs on board by offering him the Ministry of Defence—an offer Le Drian turned down, suspicious of Sarkozy’s anti-socialist stance. He ultimately accepted an offer for the position in 2012 by President François Hollande.

During Le Drian’s time in government, France saw a resurgence in weapons exports, rising from 4.6 billion euros in 2012 to 20 billion euros by the time he ended his time at the ministry in 2017. He was a prominent advocate for the realist turn in French foreign policy, including the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan for deployment in the Sahel. The move demonstrated the importance that North Africa had within the French national security strategy, increasingly at the expense of the U.S. agenda of democracy promotion and its military focus on the Middle East. Le Drian further surrounded himself with regional experts like Emmanuel Bonne, Hollande’s adviser for North Africa and the Middle East.

In 2017, the newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron offered Le Drian the position of Foreign Minister, which he accepted while retaining his Socialist Party membership—an unusual move. Like Sarkozy, Macron brought ambitious views on France’s southern goals to the presidency. Since his election, he has called for Marseille to become a “capital of the Mediterranean,” and presided over the launch of investment forums like the Two Shores Summit in 2019 and the Mediterranean Worlds Forum in 2022. At the latter, Macron echoed Talleyrand in asserting that “Mare Nostrum is our sea, our space, a shared place which is the focus of our civilization and a link between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.”

Macron’s ambitions ran beyond the business world. Until 2017, he pursued the normalization of relations with Algeria; after this largely ended in failure, he redoubled support for Morocco by aiding its bid to reach “regional supremacy” through modernizing its military and increasing endorsements of Moroccan claims to Western Sahara. Macron has also worked to increase French influence in Lebanon, with French diplomatic involvement helping to secure the release of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri from his mysterious detention in Saudi Arabia. France has also poured money into Lebanon following the country’s 2020 port explosion in Beirut.

Splits in the Continent

Macron’s attraction to the Mediterranean appears to be influenced by several factors, including his predecessors. The Maghreb and Lebanon belong to the French-speaking world: la Francophonie. De Gaulle had originally hoped to structure an organic francophone bloc in Africa around French leadership; his successor, President Pompidou, made it imperative to expand the use of the French language globally. President Jacques Chirac, mentored by Pompidou, established the Agence intergouvernementale de la Francophoniethe first single organization to embody the Francophone world—in an attempt to prevent the French language from becoming a “fallen queen” in Paris’s arsenal of influence.

This organized linguistic influence renders France unique among European nations. Other European states with an imperial heritage, such as Britain, Spain, or Portugal, could hardly claim to remain the dominant centers of power within their own comparable communities or language spheres.

Among large segments of the French elite, this large alternative linguistic space contributes to a sense that autonomy from the Anglo-Saxon world remains possible. Viewed through that lens, it is unsurprising that France linked the creation of a united European superpower with its autonomy from the Anglosphere—and ideally, with its adoption of French as a working language. While the integration of Europe into la Francophonie failed, France’s stewardship over this existing space is only possible if it maintains a southward axis of geopolitical influence.

This network runs in both directions, however, exposing France to threats from within la Francophonie. As Islamic extremism rose in prominence around 2015-17, Macron adopted a focus on restoring a sense of stability and secularism in affected regions of Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Francophone sphere as a way of bolstering France’s own national security. He set Foreign Minister Le Drian to work constructing a strategy to restore order in Libya, which continued to be a breeding ground for Islamist activity. The centerpiece of this strategy was support for the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, a staunch anti-Islamist with extensive military experience and a reputation for ruling with an iron fist.

But France’s foreign policy landscape was not the only thing that had changed. The Libyan conflict had begun in a world of relative American hegemony, with French leadership in the operation constituting a rather notable exception. By the time of France’s return, Washington had begun to significantly descale its presence in the Middle East, leaving a tangible void to be filled by chaos and aspiring regional powers. Russia’s takeover of Crimea and China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea had forced a sense of multipolarity in the world order that had not existed in the early 2010s.

As these events played out, Brussels began to adapt. This environment gave rise to the concept of European strategic autonomy. Officially adopted as a policy position of the European Union in 2016, the term refers to molding the EU into a sovereign geopolitical actor, including through the development of autonomous “security architecture,” and developing the ability to operate without the leadership of the United States. France has promoted the concept and it is informed by the many tendencies that have defined French foreign policy in the generations following the end of the Second World War.

By the time of the 2016 EU Global Strategy summit, that sentiment was shared by members of the European Commission: “An appropriate level of ambition and strategic autonomy is important for Europe’s ability to promote peace and security within and beyond its borders.” The adoption of the strategy under Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission occurred despite a lukewarm approach to the subject among German foreign policy elites, as well as relative hostility by most Northern, Central, and Eastern European governments.

In contrast, the Commission’s decision was a victory for Paris’s push for a more sovereign, integrated European foreign policy. But the decision also exposed its internal divides. The EU is split between nations that prioritize southward or eastward axes in their security perspectives, but also between different preferences for dealing with such questions, such as leaning toward the EU or NATO.

But while the growing divide between southern and eastern-focused states mostly remained a matter of policy disputes, France was about to face a much hotter rivalry. Political leaders in Italy, the second-largest European state in the Mediterranean, had reacted with fury at Paris’s sense of adventurism in a traditionally Italian backyard. Macron’s re-engagement in Libya by mid-2017 was a particularly infuriating example of this. Bruno Vespa, Italy’s leading television talk show host, exclaimed that his nation was being “cuckolded and beaten” by France while directly calling upon Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano to “rebel” against this.

Italian foreign policy elites prioritized the relationship with Libya in terms of managing illegal migration flows, as well as safeguarding energy needs. This latter point once came largely in the form of support for initiatives set out by ENI, Italy’s most important energy company. However, Italian policymakers began to take a stronger stance toward domestic security and migration after the refugee crisis, especially during the tenure of Minister of Interior Marco Minniti. Right-wing populist Matteo Salvini expanded these policies from 2018 onward.

France, meanwhile, remained committed to the fight against radical Islamism. The more assertive attitude in Rome made confrontation over Libya inevitable. This was especially the case in Libya’s south, where French and Italian companies vied for the rights of local crude oil reserves through the support of competing factions. Frictions continued after Rome’s failure to commence a planned security operation in Niger, near Libya’s south, allegedly due to French pressure on domestic authorities. Moreover, the French-backed Khalifa Haftar also called upon local southern Libyan militias to wage “Jihad against the [Italian] fascists,” further hampering any potential Italian military presence in the area.

This proxy war between member-states of both NATO and the EU posed a serious challenge to French aspirations toward a greater role in the Mediterranean, let alone Macron’s ultimate goal of European strategic autonomy. In theory, French and Italian interests were not only similar, but often complementary; greater Italian involvement in tandem with France in North Africa and the Sahel could have crafted a far more efficient mechanism for preventing migration, hampering Islamic extremism, and stabilizing the region. But despite the whole array of European institutions, their respective national elites were not coordinated on this question.

In pursuing their interests separately, Paris and Rome also exposed themselves to the likes of divide-and-rule strategies from foreign powers that were entering the fray. French officials watched as Turkish involvement expanded, with Erdogan’s government supporting groups in combat against Haftar’s Libyan National Army. As a powerful and increasingly assertive state straddling Europe, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey has long posed a threat to French ambitions in the region.

While much of Ankara’s newfound ambition was rooted in diminishing U.S. presence in the region, part of its new illiberal turn had come from the growing realization that its desired EU accession would likely remain elusive forever. In response to this exclusion, pro-Western elites in Turkey saw their legitimacy eroded; Turkish society under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned increasingly toward a mix of Islamism, nationalism, and the pursuit of a unique development path. Macron and Le Drian found this especially precarious, expressing anxiety that such a formula could appeal to North African nations, which prompted Paris to quietly begin considering a policy of containing Turkey.

These suspicions were only worsened further in mid-2020, after French warships monitoring the NATO arms embargo against Libya were harassed by Turkish forces. As per a cautious geopolitical logic, Macron began reinforcing ties with Greece and Cyprus, both traditional Turkish rivals in the Mediterranean with whom previous French administrations had also long maintained strong relationships.

These tensions had been foreshadowed by the Blue Homeland concept in Turkey, which has reoriented Turkish strategic thinking toward control over the eastern Mediterranean. Emphasizing Turkey’s right to a vast maritime territory around its border, it would leave many Greek islands without territorial waters or exclusive economic zones (EEZs), instead connecting the Libyan and Turkish EEZs. Erdogan’s failing economy has made the prospect of Eastern Mediterranean gas discoveries from the 2000s near Cyprus attractive.

A diplomatic explosion occurred in July and August 2020, after Erdogan ordered a bold step forward in this direction by sending a seismic research vessel accompanied by a military escort into Greek waters. This led to an intense international crisis, characterized by sharp antagonism between Turkey on one hand, and Greece and France on the other. Macron and French foreign policy elites lobbied hard in support of Greece throughout Europe, increasing its strain on relations with Turkey, but also on more traditional allies. This included Berlin, which was thrown into an awkward position as it attempted to maintain close relations with both Paris and Ankara, but also several eastward-focused capitals in Central and Eastern Europe that cautioned against fanning the flames of conflict among NATO member states.

While France’s conflict with Italy and Turkey was somewhat predictable, the shifting relationship with Berlin took both politicians and the public by surprise. A plethora of French public intellectuals called out Germany’s position as events in the Eastern Mediterranean grew more precarious, leading to an open war of words between elites of Europe’s two most influential nations. Benjamin Haddad, a leading figure in the Atlantic Council, accused Berlin of “moral and strategic collapse.” Columnist Jean-Loup Bonnamy wrote in Le Figaro that Berlin had “only its national interest in mind” in taking its neutral position—implicitly reminding readers that it was France taking the European interest.

The conflict permeated from top-level networks down into Twitter and the public square, with various intellectuals and think-tankers from both nations openly attacking the positions of the other’s government. Macron did not mince words, calling Turkey’s new ideological stance “incompatible with European interests” and declaring that “France is a Mediterranean power.”

This public spat was evidence of a strain in the Franco-German alliance that has endured since the Second World War and undergirded European integration. But it was not entirely new: the nature of French strategic autonomy and the Gaullist philosophy at its roots had also always been jarring to Germany’s own strategic priorities. Where French elites dreamed of building a francophone European civilization-state capable of competing with the likes of global superpowers, the post-war German elite was always hesitant to push their luck, preferring to maintain their leading position in a continental free-trade zone of peaceful neighbors.

But even as tensions increased with Germany, Emmanuel Macron was finding other allies for his vision.

Macron’s leadership in promoting European strategic autonomy went hand in hand with increased influence in the Mediterranean, and vice versa. This proved an especially ideal scenario for Greece, whose geographic and financial difficulties have often rendered the support of a more powerful external patron necessary. France and Greece also share a legacy of being the only members of NATO to have left the integrated structured command system of the alliance, and both maintain cultures of skepticism toward NATO and a preference for greater emphasis on defense within European institutions. While this sense of strategic autonomy is befitting of Gaullist interests within French foreign policy circles, it is also preferable to many Greek policymakers who have more faith in a military alliance that does not include Turkey.

Spurred by such interests, President Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis signed a historic security agreement in September 2021 that largely flew under the radar relative to its unprecedented importance. The agreement pledges each nation to come to the defense of the other in the case of an attack by a third party and also commits Greek aid to French operations in Africa.

Most importantly, the bilateral treaty takes priority over NATO commitments. While this final point was a way to ensure the agreement came into effect in the case of an attack by NATO-member Turkey, it also offers a glimpse into the potential for European security agreements outside of NATO. Mitsotakis described the agreement as paving the way for “autonomous” European defense, “equal to its economic power.” In pledging a common destiny for Athens and Paris, the agreement deeply anchors France to the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean and deepens the rivalry between Paris and Ankara.

After Macron’s successful gambit in the Eastern Mediterranean came another surprising victory: a dramatic improvement of relations with Italy. The coming to power of Mario Draghi, former President of the European Central Bank, as Italian Prime Minister ushered in an opportunity for Macron to finally normalize relations. The most important fruit of these negotiations was the Quirinal Treaty, which had been in the works for several years. The treaty’s purpose was to officially smoothen Franco-Italian relations and synchronize their foreign policies. Modeled after the Elysée Treaty signed between Berlin and Paris in 1963, the agreement seems to indicate that Paris is prepared to equate relations with Italy as being of similar priority to those with Berlin, demonstrating another vision of long-term southward reorientation.

In November 2021, the Quirinal Treaty was signed. The new partnership between the two states commits to common positions in a vast array of fields, including European and foreign policy, security and defense, migration policy, economics, education, research, culture, and cross-border cooperation. The Quirinal Treaty was a landmark moment in France’s Mediterranean expansion. It was also signed in the face of opposition on the Italian side: French political elites have often looked upon Italy as a younger sister, and palpable anti-French sentiment among the Italian right has proven a hindrance to a much deeper relationship.

Macron’s success in the Mediterranean did not end there, however. Using this trilateral network between Paris, Athens, and Rome as a base, the countries pursued several joint initiatives throughout 2021. This included a sizable increase in joint naval exercises, many of which also included Spain.

France also initiated various cultural initiatives, including a group charter with Italy, Greece, and Cyprus creating a “global and international strategy for the promotion and development of Latin and ancient Greek.”

This charter is the first international manifestation of a revival that the French government has begun to push domestically, particularly under the watch of Macron’s former education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, who was in office until May 2022. Blanquer has been one of the most prominent critics of the influence of “wokeisme” in French schools and academies, calling it a threat to the “living heritage which is the common cornerstone of European and Mediterranean culture.” Before the new treaty, he had already begun promoting the return of Latin and Ancient Greek in French vocational schools. The new initiative is nominally about heritage, but Blanquer’s statements point to another motivation as well: emphasizing a common basis for cooperation in the future, as well as for independence from U.S. ideological mores.

Macron’s Eastern Opposition

Apart from these initiatives, Macron has also extended his hand to some other players in the region, possibly looking to expand influence around other southward European states. Along with the Quirinal Treaty with Italy, Macron’s European charm offensive also secured an agreement on Strategic Partnership with Croatia, already one of France’s closest allies in the Balkans. The agreement confirms Croatia’s status as “a privileged partner to France” in the region. However, the added purchase of 12 French Rafale fighter jets hints that this extends beyond just a political and economic relationship. Given the alarming rise in ethnic tensions in neighboring Bosnia, France may find the opportunity to play a leading security role in supporting Croatia.

In the midst of the build-up of Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders in early 2022, France also agreed to send a contingent of troops to Romania. Although lacking a Mediterranean coastline, Romania is a nation with a long history of close cultural ties with France, Italy, and Greece.

The past two years had thus presented themselves as an almost ideal scenario for the objectives of French foreign policy elites, who had long striven for a privileged position in what both Macron and Mitsotakis have referred to as “Mare Nostrum.” With a growing coalition of like-minded states in Southern Europe, Macron’s administration began France’s six-month presidency of the Council of the EU with a strong foundation. Macron’s rhetoric in the run-up to the presidency was grandiose, envisioning a Europe “powerful in the world, fully sovereign, free in its choices, and in charge of its own destiny.” He proposed rethinking German-backed deficit rules and pan-European cooperation on border security to combat attempts by countries like Belarus to intensify the refugee crisis. Macron placed particular emphasis on the development of greater security capabilities; the 2021 spat between France and the Anglosphere AUKUS alliance appeared to have inflamed French ambitions for military autonomy in the EU.

With France bent on bringing Europe together on migration and defense, the Russian invasion of Ukraine could not have happened at a worse moment for Paris. While Central and Eastern Europe have benefited economically from EU membership, they have traditionally been skeptical of any attempt at European security integration. Marked by violent histories with Russia, countries like Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania are cautiously realistic toward their eastern borders, preferring to rely principally on the hard power of NATO and the United States, and remain quite cautious of any moves that might encourage the US to consider withdrawal from the continent.

While some eastern states, like Estonia, have sent troops to French-led missions in Africa in exchange for French troops on their own soil, most capitals in this camp realize they can find better security bargains in Anglo-Saxon capitals. German hesitancy on security and military matters—including Angela Merkel’s neglect of the Bundeswehr, along with outright disregard for calls to halt the construction of the Nord Stream II pipeline with Russia, and gutting of its own domestic energy infrastructure—only intensified this attitude.

While Macron and the French establishment have been more ambitious on military affairs, this has not extended to hawkishness on Russia of the kind Central and Eastern European states desire. Macron’s dialogue with Vladimir Putin, his failure to predict the invasion, and his negotiatory tone on the conflict only worsened his image among political elites in Warsaw and other eastward capitals as they scrambled to send as much military aid to Ukraine as possible and bolster their own arsenals.

The suspicion of Central and Eastern Europe towards any European integration would be a thorn in France’s side on its own. But it has found allies in both Britain and the United States as well.

For Britain, increasing ties with countries like Poland is attractive as the country attempts to negotiate its post-Brexit relationships with European capitals. The pro-Brexit members of the Conservative Party who are now in power appear sympathetic to a Mackinderian grand strategy, rooted in the logic that Britain must counteract any state formation seeking hegemony over the European continent. Reports from the 2022 Davos summit revealed ambitions from British officials toward the creation of a “European Commonwealth,” an alternative to the European Union, together with Central and Eastern European states.

Much of London’s logic likely finds sympathy among U.S. elites as well, with U.S. power in Europe traditionally relying on a divided continent in a state of military dependence on Washington. But while the U.S. remains the preeminent power in Europe, its primary focus is increasingly the anxious great power competition that has developed with China. The conflict in Ukraine has returned focus to Europe for now, with the U.S. successfully coordinating sanctions against Russia across European capitals in record time. As that conflict drags on and the European Union is once again forced to take on the burden of energy and military policy, the divides between Paris and the Central and Eastern capitals are sure to resurface as an obstacle to French aims.

Under these circumstances, France’s bilateral relationships with other European capitals will be the springboard for any real developments in crafting a sovereign European power. These, in turn, are increasingly bound up in its current southern strategy. In consolidating a series of impressive gains in the Mediterranean over the past few years, Macron and other French leaders have shown just to what extent the dream of a sovereign Europe still guides decisions in Paris.

Sven Etienne Peterson is a graduate student at the University of Glasgow in Central and East European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies. He tweets @Sven_Etienne.