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No ‘Big Change’ Expected in France’s Foreign Policy under Macron: SIPRI Chief

Paris (Tasnim– The director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) described French president-elect Emmanuel Macron as a foreign policy novice, saying that he expects “no very big change” in the country’s external policy under the new president.

“Macron is generally regarded as having far less understanding of foreign and security policy issues than he does of economic issues. It is said his understanding goes as far as Brussels, and that he is very strong on EU policies and politics, but it stops there…in view of his foreign policy advisers, I would not expect any very big change from the governments of either Hollande or Sarkozy,” Dan Smith told the Tasnim news agency.

Macron at 2014 LEWEB Conference (Flickr CC)

Dan Smith has a long record of research and publication on a wide range of conflict and peace issues such as nationalism, identity politics, armed conflicts, ethics of intervention, gender aspects of conflict and peace building. In recent years, his work has broadened to encompass other contemporary issues such as the relationship between climate change and insecurity, peace and security issues in the Middle East and global conflict trends. Smith has served four years in the UN Peacebuilding Fund Advisory group, two of which (2010–2011) were as Chair. He has lived most of his adult life in the UK with a 10-year spell in Norway. He has traveled professionally to more than 60 countries.

Following is the full text of the interview.

Tasnim: On Sunday, centrist Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency with a decisive victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen that his supporters hailed as holding back the tide of populism. The average poll conducted in the final two weeks of the campaign gave Macron a far smaller lead (22 percentage points) than he ended up winning by (32 points), for a 10-point miss. In the eight previous presidential election runoffs, dating back to 1969, the average poll missed the margin between the first- and second-place finishers by only 3.9 points. What is your take on this?

Smith: Interesting point. The key is to do with transfers from first round preferences to the second round. Opinion polling between the two rounds suggested some Melenchon (left Socialist) voters would either not vote or even shift to Le Pen. It seems that did not happen and a heavy majority of Melenchon voters supported to Macron.

Tasnim: Do you believe that France’s domestic policy will change under Macron?

Smith: This is one of the many issues that is hard to forecast. French domestic policy is, like anywhere, the product of a balance between contending economic, social and political forces. Macron talks of not just a change in policy but in politics as a whole. That is hard to deliver because of the powerful interests that, while competing with each other, effectively lock the whole system in place. Macron’s En Marche party is so new, which will make it difficult for him to play the political game within the existing framework. Accordingly, difficulty in changing the political framework may translate into difficulty in doing anything new in French domestic policy. However, at the start of this year it did not look like there would be a President coming from outside the two main parties. France and Macron have surprised us. They may do so again.

Tasnim: He won the keys to the Elysee palace without giving a major address on international affairs. What kind of policy he may adopt towards the Middle East, Syria in particular?

Smith: Macron is generally regarded as having far less understanding of foreign and security policy issues than he does of economic issues. It is said his understanding goes as far as Brussels, and that he is very strong on EU policies and politics, but it stops there. In a major interview a month ago he called for a UN-supported military intervention in Syria if the allegations of nerve gas use were supported by evidence. That is a line that is different from, for example, US President Trump’s decision to make a missile attack because of the nerve gas use. We will probably find out quite quickly what positions Macron will support over Syria and the Middle East and North Africa in general. In view of his foreign policy advisers, I would not expect any very big change from the governments of either Hollande or Sarkozy.

Tasnim: Russian President Vladimir Putin told France’s President-elect Emmanuel Macron on Monday he wanted to put mistrust aside and work with him. “In these conditions it is especially important to overcome mutual mistrust and unite efforts to ensure international stability and security.” What do you think? Do you believe Russian-French relation will change under Macron? Kindly explain.

Smith: Macron’s campaign believed they were the target of a concerted hacking attack from Russia that was backed by the Russian government. It is unlikely that it will be easy or quick to rebuild trust. However, Macron’s foreign policy advisers will probably urge him towards a pragmatic working relationship with Russia.

This post was originally published by Tasnim News Agency.