BERLIN --- Macron’s and AKK’s distinct styles obscure a core agreement: threats to the transatlantic relationship mean that European countries must finally stand up and defend themselves.
French President Emmanuel Macron knows how to draw people’s attention. His interview with the Economist last week, in which he described NATO as “brain-dead”, rocked the European boat. In contrast, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) – the new German defence minister and heir apparent to Chancellor Angela Merkel – speaks in a more measured tone. Her workmanlike speech to a German defence college on the same day garnered little notice beyond German-speaking circles – but, in fact, AKK’s intervention had more noteworthy elements than Macron’s.
Reading their comments in parallel reveals how their distinct styles obscure a core agreement: the threats to the transatlantic relationship from within (the Trump administration) and without (Russia under President Vladimir Putin) mean that Europe – particularly France and Germany – must finally stand up and defend themselves. It is perhaps time that France and Germany recognised just how much they agree.
At first glance, the two interventions appear to be at odds with each other. They were widely perceived as such, with Macron facing criticism for allegedly bashing NATO while AKK was welcomed for having taken a step in the right direction. But this conclusion favours style over substance.
The French philosopher-king, who likes to see himself as more of a thinker than a politician, uses rhetoric very different to that of the German defence minister, whose background is in provincial politics. Macron aims to provoke; AKK uses qualifiers and caveats with abandon. Macron has no problem calling out specific countries; AKK prefers to speak in general terms about how “states evad[e] rules of international order that have been established for decades.”
But, beyond these rhetorical differences, they largely share the same analysis of the world. They both worry about the rise of China, the return of great power competition, and the risk that Europe will be marginalised. They agree that “the United States remains our major ally, we need them, we are close and we share the same values” (Macron), but that “both the willingness and ability to do more than its fair share are dwindling in the United States. This is why we must step up in future, just like others who are defending a reliable, free and democratic order.” (AKK).
Given that there is no evidence that the two politicians coordinated their interventions, their many points of agreement are all the more meaningful.
Of course, they are not completely aligned. (end of excerpt)
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