French Return to Rene’s ‘Allo ‘Allo!

The chubby German Colonel von Strohm from the ‘Allo ‘Allo! series, (which was produced by the BBC and aired from 1982 to 1992 took place during World War II in the town of Nouvion, Normandy), on one occasion, completely content living with the sexy waitresses at Rene’s Cafe declares “This war is great, we have everything at Rene’s in the cafe, we enjoy it … except for the Resistance that occasionally annoys me.”

The French were very angry with the BBC at the time because they considered the series to mock their resistance movement and their involvement in the fight against fascism. Although the producers’ intention was merely to caricature war films and TV dramas, in this particular case the drama about the “Secret Army” resistance movement dealt with the adventures of the French resistance movement established in a cafe in Brussels. However, the French’s desire to romanticize their role on side of the free world in World War II is understandable, given the shame and embarrassment inflicted on them by Marshal Petain with his government, accepting the capitulation of France in 1940.

The European Coal and Steel Community, as a forerunner to the European Union, was created on the basis of the Robert Schuman Plan, which proposed in 1950 the creation of powers over the coal and steel industry of post-war France and Germany (and other countries that wanted to join them). Today, the same two countries decide whether the EU still exists. Macron’s statement that “NATO is clinically dead and the EU is on the verge of an abyss” is more than worrying. Angela Merkel is not yet retired, although her influence and importance are already questionable in Germany itself, let alone in the EU. Macron is a self-proclaimed new EU leader, although without the capacity to reform and stabilize his country let alone the EU, which is his ambition. His decisions and statements these days (quietly and almost obediently) backed by the German chancellor represent the best New Year’s gift to Vladimir Putin who would not even dare to ask it from Santa Claus.

That the EU is surviving the crisis of functioning is no secret for a long time, but that the ideas on solving the crisis differ between the most influential Europeans to such an extent is only recently made clear. As time goes on, there are more and more controversial issues for the major players, and less and less agreement, even on things the Union rests on. The crisis of functioning is slowly turning into an identity crisis, despite the fact that a significant majority of Europeans have a positive opinion of life in the community. The EU these days looks like a bus full of moody passengers who have bought a ticket to a specific destination, but the driver, conductor and guide exchange slaps, pulling to their own side as they all rush towards the curve behind which is the abyss.

Emanuel Macron’s victory in the May 2017 elections was met with enormous relief across Europe as well as the world, as it was thought that great France remained on the European course, despite the still fresh “NO” from Britain. His victory was celebrated by millions of Europeans, convinced that the arrival of Macron would be a decisive blow to Europhobes and populists, not only in France but across the continent. The new French leader did not raise any doubt that he, with a strong sense of preservation of the Union, could become its destroyer and trustee. His good intentions towards the EU may turn out to pave the way for the Union’s disintegration, or if it is too far away, then certainly for its further weakening inside. Macron’s strategy of just over a year ago on a three-zone Europe is no doubt well-intentioned for the future of the Union, but the way the French president is trying to do it does the opposite.

The French closing of the door to negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania has been criticized both in the Balkans and across the EU and in America, as a destructive move that will cause serious consequences to the last European non-integrated area – the Western Balkans. Then followed Macron’s shocking “shake-up” of the NATO, America (Trump), the EU itself and, again, the Balkans … If things really went wrong for the European Union, his interview for the London Economist would be remembered as the point from which the collapse became open and unstoppable.

Someone who wants to present himself to the world as the leading reformer of the European Union can find it very difficult to achieve this goal, and especially to preserve such an image, if he shatters all around him, rejects the alliances of natural partners (Europeans), prefers confrontation as opposed to compromise … Unfortunately, circumstances are in his favor. The complicated and lengthy procedures for the formation of European institutions are excelling this summer and fall, suggesting that the Brussels administration will be in full operation for close to a year after the European elections are over. The agony with Britain’s leaving the Union continues, keeping Brussels under constant pressure and frustration from unfinished business. The US president, overwhelmed by his own misery at the impeachment procedure, has neither the time nor the energy, and probably no desire to ease the tensions with Europe he has raised himself. Finally, the cooling authority of Angela Merkel and Germany in general is fueling Macron’s ambition to take the lead over the European Union.
To what extent is the French leader arrogant, is best to ask Bulgarians and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who rightly found themselves offended, when Macron recently said he prefers illegal immigrants from Africa than Ukrainian and Bulgarian bandits!?

Whatever his intentions, Macron is detuning the European Union, much to the delight of the colorful community, which touches on the points of its policies only to see its collapse. In that societies are European populists of all colors (both left and right), the Kremlin and Putin, but also Trump and, of course, the Chinese state leadership. A large, unique (not necessarily united) rich Europe, not deviating from its pillars of openness and human rights, is too dangerous a project for nationalists (Trump), frustrated post-imperialists (Putin), economic and security brokers from China, and anti-migrant or neo-communist adventurers from populist European parties.

If any defense to this disintegration trend is to be seen, it may be searched for in the Ursula von der Leyen, the new President of the European Commission, who in the first months of her term has shown strong political integrity and, why not, a candidacy to replace the increasingly pale political authority owned by her mentor Angela Merkel for years in the Union. Although she will be in a position that does not have close proximity to the political strength of the French president or German chancellor, Ursula von der Leyen is running for a new first pro-European and, for example, because she confronted Macron’s NATO mass without hesitation, responding to him that it was an extraordinary institution and the strongest defense alliance in the world. At the same time, this former German defense minister has strongly advocated that Europe must in the future step out of its favorite suit of “soft power” and show itself and the world that it also knows the “language of power” by strengthening its security policies. In this context, at least for us in the Balkans, we did not miss her counteraction to Macron’s stopping the enlargement of the Union by saying that closer integration of the Western Balkans with the EU is of strategic importance to the Union.

The new Prime Minister of the European Union clearly sees that every staggering of Europe is very good for Russia and warns about it. Although the policies of her Commission will be largely constrained by the will of certain Member States, France under Macron surely, Europe seems to be gaining with her a new and fresh leadership, which shows the strength to cope with the challenges of the moment, such as Brexit, a constant Russian, and even Chinese destruction. It is possible that we are attending the beginning of the re-integration of the European Union, under new circumstances and under the guidance of a completely new type and character leader. It is also possible that the true reformer of the Union should no longer be sought in the President of France, notwithstanding that he intended this role for himself, but in the new, first Union administrator, Ursula von der Leyen. Therefore, the words of George Soros, addressed on the occasion of the recent 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, should be read carefully. If anything, we have to admit that he has been able to evaluate future trends: “We live in a revolutionary time, when the range of possibilities is much wider than usual and the outcome is much more uncertain than in normal times. The only thing we can depend on is our beliefs.”