A state visit is usually held to celebrate the friendship between the two countries. That there is more to France and the Netherlands than good trade relations was made clear during a state visit in recent days, for which all stops in Amsterdam and The Hague were excluded. Since the British exit from the European Union and reformist Emmanuel Macron as president, the Netherlands, the largest of the small nations, has increasingly engaged with Paris in the European context, and with good reason.
The EU’s ‘strategic autonomy’, Macron’s hobby horse, was a key theme of the visit. It was premeditated: a lecture in The Hague and visits to important economic sectors to support the idea that Europe should be the third power in a bipolar world, alongside the US and China. But mainly because of Macron Own reports About US pressure on China, this theme became the talk of the week for less fancy reasons. Strategic autonomy is not just a concept that can be freely philosophized in Parisian salons, but also carries responsibilities in the real world.
Macron is probably right when he says that this “ideological battle” for strategic autonomy in Europe has been settled. It is his pride because of his support from former chancellor Merkel. When he began speaking about it at the Sorbonne University shortly after taking office as chancellor in 2017, skepticism was even greater. Now even countries like Germany and the Netherlands, which have traditionally focused more on transatlantic relations, are convinced that Europe can play a significant role only through intensive cooperation between the two superpowers and possible joint industrial policy and defense procurement.
But it’s not far off. Europe still cannot do without the Americans for its protection. The situation in Ukraine painfully exposed this last year. As Republicans subtly observed after Macron’s statements, without extensive U.S. military aid, the country might have collapsed long ago.
Macron is therefore short-sighted to have now jeopardized the strategic relationship with the US by suggesting that Europe should take a different course towards China and Taiwan. “The worst thing is that the Europeans think they have to be quiet on this matter and follow the American rhythm and the Chinese overreaction,” he said shortly before a visit to the Netherlands on his way back from China. He had gone there on a state visit to celebrate friendship. What made his statements all the more poignant was that China had begun a massive ‘encirclement exercise’ around Taiwan at the time.
It has long been French foreign policy to be able to talk to anyone at the Élysée. “Being an ally does not mean you are a slave,” Macron told a press conference at the end of a state visit in Amsterdam. That may be so, but for strategic autonomy to become one, some realism is also required. China wants to drive a wedge between America and Europe. Next to Macron on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rutte rightly pointed out that the relationship with the US is vital. Macron has now lost his credibility in his own country. If he wants to maintain his leading role on the European stage in these geopolitically turbulent times, he will have to be very careful with his words.
A version of this article appeared in the April 14, 2023 issue of the newspaper.
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