Macron takes the reins
2018-02-01 17:10:00 -
World News

Ireland’s solidarity with France’s president is vital as that country assumes leadership of Europe, writes Michael McGowan


President Emmanuel Macron of France is taking the lead in progressing European co-operation as today’s most powerful leader in Europe following the decline in the influence of Germany’s Angela Merkel, who had long been the most dominant political force in Europe.


Macron has ambitions to put the EU on the world stage, with France playing a leading role. And there are consequences for Ireland, including keeping the peace in Northern Ireland, which requires support from Macron especially now the UK has decided to leave the union.


Ireland is in a strong position to consolidate and step up its relations with France and President Macron, as Ireland and France have much in common and many shared interests, besides historic links.


After the Irish Free State obtained its independence from the UK in 1922, Ireland established a diplomatic presence in 1929 in Paris, and the following year France opened its first diplomatic legation in Dublin.


In 1969, then French President Charles de Gaulle paid an official visit to Ireland and met with Irish President Eamon de Valera. Since establishing diplomatic relations, France and Ireland have been close and have worked together in the EU.


Besides that, both countries are members of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). France is also Ireland’s fourth largest tourism market, while migration between the states is significant, with 9,000 French citizens living in Ireland and 15,000 Irish in France.


I have long been an ardent student of French politics, and have seen first-hand how France regards itself as having a special if not a leading role in Europe. For 15 years I lived with a French family during Strasbourg sessions of the European Parliament, so I have experience of French domestic life as well.


France takes great pride in Strasbourg being the host for the monthly meetings of the European Parliament, and in the French language long being the predominant working language of the EU, although it has since been superseded by English following EU enlargement.


France has always been reluctant, especially in earlier days of Nato, to accept the United States as the leading world power. The behaviour of US President Donald Trump more recently must be causing many in Europe to rethink the continent’s future defence and security.


But back to Franco-Irish relations, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that the UK’s decision to leave the EU means that the relationship between Ireland and France will become even stronger and more strategic than in the past.


He has expressed alarm at the prospect Brexit but said that the French presidential and legislative elections of May and June of last year changed his view — and that for those of us who care about the European project, 2017 was “the year of the French”.


“Brexit will leave behind a very, very complex and difficult political and economic situation to manage in Ireland and on the island of Ireland,” said Minister Coveney, adding that it is important that “the most successful peace process in the EU [is maintained] as a part of the island leaves the EU in a way that that causes all sorts of confusion and difficulties in the context of the Good Friday Agreement.”


Meanwhile, France’s decision to loan the famous Bayeux Tapestry to the UK has captured headlines in Europe and has been generally welcomed as a generous and innovative act of diplomacy. It also shows that President Macron has a sense of humour as the tapestry depicts the 1066 Norman invasion of Britain, which hardly marks a moment of British national glory.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.


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