France’s young President Emmanuel Macron has redefined France’s foreign policy in the most progressive of terms, echoing many of our own foreign policy objectives.
We may have castigated France’s ill-conceived military intervention in Libya six years ago which scorned an African diplomatic solution, and criticised its neo-colonial control over West African economies, but today we see a new approach. Instead of defending France’s intervention in Libya, Macron has accepted France’s particular responsibility to ensure the country’s stability is restored.
Macron’s new foreign policy was elucidated in his address to the UN General Assembly last week, which surprised many as being one of the most progressive approaches to international relations we have seen yet in an era of increasing conservative isolationism. If Macron implements his foreign policy vision and becomes a voice of reason and compassion on the UN Security Council, South Africa will certainly have an ally.
In sharp contract to US President Donald Trump’s pompous rhetoric, Macron approached France’s position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with humility. “While my country holds a somewhat unique position within the order of nations, this gives it a debt to all those that have had their voices taken from them. I know that France’s duty is to speak for those that we do not hear.”
Instead of speaking about banning fleeing refugees and economic migrants from France’s shores in a “France First” approach, Macron instead spoke of the reality that “no barrier can stop the march of despair, if we do not transform routes of necessity into routes of freedom.” Macron acknowledged that refugees are fleeing their countries in order to save their families while war is raging and international law is no longer respected. He said that protecting refugees is a moral and political obligation in which Francemust play its part – something most leaders are not so quick to articulate these days.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been making similar public pronouncements about the need to assist refugees and migrants and provide them safe haven. But even Canada has not gone as far as France under Macron’s leadership to commit itself to increases in Overseas Development Assistance, which will address the root causes of migration and terrorism by implementing development projects. Macron’s focus on investing resources in education, health, and the role of women are all priorities which South Africa shares.
Macron announced to the UN General Assembly that France will set a goal of earmarking 0.55% of its gross national income (GNI) to official development assistance (ODA) within the next five years. This shows remarkable leadership and a sense of shared responsibility. Canada, which has usually been a leading light in terms of development assistance, has no plans to increase its ODA over the next five years, and its current level of 0.26% of GNI could fall below its lowest rate since 1965 by the year 2022.
Macron has set France’s approach to global responsibility in direct contrast to that of the US, which under Trump has showed little interest in multilateral cooperation. In keeping with Trump’s “America First” approach, the US is likely to cut and in some cases freeze ODA in the 2018 budget. US ODA was at 0.18% of GNI last year, but next year’s budget is likely to see cuts across the board of 20-40%, slashing revenue to global health programs and even humanitarian assistance. Trump’s objective is to weaken USAID, and strengthen the State Department.
Where Trump has called journalists “enemies of the people,” Macron used his platform at the UN to call from the protection of journalists, going so far as to call for the appointment of a special representative of the UN Secretary General for the protection of journalists around the world.
But Macron has also championed a renewed focus on ensuring human security. He has set out France’s agenda as the incoming President of the UN Security Council next month, which is largely a pledge to ensure greater levels of human security in armed conflicts. He has spoken about the absolute necessity to allow everyone access to medical treatment, the need to allow in medical structures, as well as the need to protect civilian populations. No doubt he has been outraged over the deliberate bombing of the facilities of Medecins Sans Frontiers in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
Macron has called for better representation on the UN Security Council of all forces present on all continents, and the need to coordinate in crisis management with the AU and regional organisations. In his speech to the Sorbonne this week he said Europe needs an external policy focused on the Mediterranean, and needs to develop a new partnership with Africa.
It is perhaps time for us to embrace France’s new progressive outlook, rather than harp on its past mistakes on our continent.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Foreign Editor.