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Remembering France's glory, securing Europe in the age of Trump

  • Alexandra Gheciu (a1)


These days, when we hear the slogan ‘let's make our country great again’ we almost automatically assume the state concerned is the US, and the leader uttering the slogan is President Trump. This article invites readers to explore the discourse and practices through which another national leader is seeking to restore his country's ‘greatness’ and promote national and international security. The leader concerned is France's Emmanuel Macron. Why focus on the French president? Because since his election he has become the most dynamic European leader, on a mission to enhance France's international stature, and to do so via a broader process of protecting and empowering the EU. More broadly, France stands out as a country whose political leadership has long been committed to the goal of playing a global role. As Pernille Rieker reminds us, ‘Since 1945, French foreign policy has been dominated by the explicit ambition of restoring the country's greatness [la grandeur de la France], justified in terms of French exceptionalism’.1

Macron has cast his vision of national/European greatness, security, and international order in opposition to the isolationist, rigidly nationalist visions articulated by his domestic opponents and, internationally, by President Trump. In his view, France and Europe can only be secure if they defeat the illiberal ideas advocated by the increasingly vocal political forces, particularly far-right movements, seeking to undermine the core values and multilateral principles of the post-1945 international order. Under these circumstances, an analysis of Macron's policies and practices of grandeur can help us gain a better understanding of the competition between liberal and illiberal worldviews – a competition that is increasingly pronounced within the Western world.


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Pernille Rieker, French Foreign Policy in a Changing World (London: Springer International Publishing, 2017), p. 3.



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2 Ringmar, Erik, ‘The problem with performativity: Comments on the contributions’, Journal of International Relations and Development, Online First (2018), p. 14, available at: {}.

3 For influential works on identity formation, see especially Campbell, David, ‘Global inscriptions: How foreign policy constitutes the United States’, Alternatives, 15:3 (1990), pp. 263–86; Neumann, Iver and Welsh, Jennifer, ‘The Other in European self-definition: a critical addendum to the literature on international society’, Review of International Studies, 17:4 (1991), pp. 327–48.

4 Adler, Emanuel, ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don't: Performative power and the strategy of conventional and nuclear defusing’, Security Studies, 19:2 (2010), pp. 199229; Hajer, Maarten A., Authoritative Governance: Policy Making in the Age of Mediatization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Ringmar, Erik, ‘Performing international systems: Two East-Asian alternatives to the Westphalian order’, International Organization, 66:1 (2012), pp. 125; Ringmar, ‘The problem with performativity’; Gheciu, Alexandra, Security Entrepreneurs: Performing Protection in Post-Cold War Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). Also relevant are: Carlson, Marvin, Performance: A Critical Introduction (London and New York: Routledge, 2004); and Alexander, Jeffrey, Performance and Power (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011).

5 Lawson, George and Shilliam, Robbie, ‘Sociology and International Relations: Legacies and prospects’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 23:1 (2010), pp. 6986.

6 See, in particular, Weldes, Jutta, Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

7 Ringmar, ‘Performing international systems’, p. 7.

8 Schechner, Richard, Performance Studies: An Introduction (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 23.

9 In analysing the French discourse on national/European greatness and security, I have selected central texts, as defined in Buzan, Barry, Wæver, Ole, and de Wilde, Jaap, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998), p. 177. In particular, I have located texts issued by actors with authority to define a situation, and in politically significant contexts. On text selection criteria, I follow in particular Hansen, Lene, Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War (London: Routledge, 2006).

10 I draw here on Hajer's (Authoritative Governance) and Alexander's (Performance and Power) analyses of the ways in which actors mobilise ‘dramaturgical tools’ to get audiences to see things in a certain light. These include discursive tools (such as metaphors or storytelling) as well as ‘stock practices’ (or routinised ways of acting) to legitimise their proposed courses of action.

11 This concept is borrowed from Anderson, Benedict's influential Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983).

12 Alexander, Performance and Power, pp. 53–5.

13 See, in particular, Cooley, Charles Horton, Human Nature and the Social Order (rev. edn, New York: Scribner's, 1922). Reprinted in The Two Major Works of Charles Cooley (New York, Free Press, 1956).

14 Cooley (Human Nature and the Social Order), also quoted in Jacobs, Glenn, Charles Horton Cooley: Imagining Social Reality (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), p. 53.

15 Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order, p. 258.

16 Ibid., p. 354.

17 Tiersky, Ronald, ‘Macron's world: How the new president is remaking France’, Foreign Affairs, 97:1 (2018), pp. 8796.

18 Ibid., p. 93.

19 De Gaulle, cited in Rieker, French Foreign Policy in a Changing World, p. 17.

20 Hawley, George, Making Sense of the Alt-Right (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).

21 Interestingly, the Front has also cultivated links with the alt-right movement and with right-wing parties from across Europe. See, for instance, ‘Aux Etats-Unis, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen veut “make France great again” [In the US, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen wants to “Make France great again”]’, Le Monde (22 February 2018), available at: {} accessed 24 September 2018.

22 Charles Bremner, ‘Only I can make France great again, says Le Pen’, The Times (17 February 2017), available at: {} accessed 23 August 2018.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Rapnouil, Manuel Lafont and Shapiro, Jeremy, ‘Macron's foreign policy: Claiming the tradition’, States News Service (8 May 2017), p. 2.

26 Those initiatives are linked to domestic reforms such as those concerning the liberalisation of labour legislation, seen as essential if France is to be able to pursue Macron's foreign policy agenda. Due to space constraints, however, I have to bracket those reforms in this article.

27 Nicholas Vinocur and Cynthia Kroet, ‘Emmanuel Macron: “I don't see myself as Jupiter”’, Politico (31 August 2017), available at: {} accessed 7 March 2019.

28 Pierre Briançon, ‘Macron's Jupiter model unlikely to stand test of time’, Politico (16 June 2017), accessed 7 March 2019.

29 Ibid.

31 Ministère des Armées, ‘Synopsis of Draft Military Planning Law 2019/2025’, Paris (2018), available at: {} accessed 22 December 2018.

32 Susan Ram, ‘Making France Great Again, Counterfire’ (19 February 2018), available at: {} accessed 22 December 2018.

33 Osborne, Samuel, ‘France's Emmanuel Macron to bring back compulsory national service for young people’, The Independent (28 June 2018), available at: {} accessed 7 January 2019.

34 Ibid.

35 See Anderson, Imagined Communities.

36 Macron cited in Tiersky, Ronald, ‘Macron's world: How the new president is remaking France’, Foreign Affairs, 97:1 (2018), pp. 8796.

38 For these and more reactions to the Bastille Day parade, see Jabeen Bhatti and Jane Onyanga-Omara, ‘Paris puts on a dazzling Bastille Day display for President Trump’, USA Today (14 July 2017), available at: {} accessed 22 December 2018.

39 Nicole Gaouette, ‘Macron rebukes Trump's isolationist message’, CNN (26 September 2018), available at: {} accessed 7 January 2019.

40 Tiersky, ‘Macron's world’, p. 93.

41 Cited in Andrew Rettman, ‘The EU needs to stand apart from the US’, EU Observer, Brussels (28 August 2018), available at: {} accessed 7 January 2019.

42 Ibid.

43 The speech is available at: {} accessed on 7 January 2019. All subsequent Macron quotations in this section of the article are also from the Athens speech.

44 Ringmar, ‘The problem with performativity’, p. 13.

45 Vinocur and Kroet, ‘Emmanuel Macron: “I don't see myself as Jupiter”’.

46 See, for instance, Cristina Abellan Matamoros, ‘“Gilets jaunes”: Who are they and what do they want?’, Euronews (3 December 2018), available at: {} accessed 14 April 2019.

47 Ibid.

48 ‘Macron responds to Gilets jaunes protests with €5bn tax cuts’, The Guardian (25 April 2019), available at: {} accessed 14 April 2019.

49 Ibid.

50 See, for example, ‘“Yellow vests” unimpressed with President Macron's offer of financial relief, with some calling it a charade’, Agence France-Presse (11 December 2018), available at: {}.

51 ‘Macron responds to Gilets jaunes protests with €5bn tax cuts’, The Guardian.

52 See, for instance, Pascale Davies, ‘“Yellow vests”: a majority of French people want Gilets jaunes' protests to end’, Euronews (16 February 2019), available at: {}.

53 Adam Nossiter, ‘European vote reveals an ever more divided France’, The New York Times (27 May 2019), available at: {} accessed 29 May 2019.

54 ‘France and Germany seal new deal as Brexit looms’, BBC News (22 January 2019), available at: {}.

55 ‘Le Pen and Salvini vow to storm Brussels “bunker” in EU elections’, France 24 (8 October 2018), available at: {}.

56 Jason Horowitz, ‘Election puts Europe on the front line of the battle with populism’, The New York Times (27 May 2019), available at: {} accessed 28 May 2019.

57 Interestingly, the elections also reflect growing support for the Greens in some, though not all EU states (and particularly in urban areas), and overall decline in support for traditional parties.

1 Pernille Rieker, French Foreign Policy in a Changing World (London: Springer International Publishing, 2017), p. 3.


Remembering France's glory, securing Europe in the age of Trump

  • Alexandra Gheciu (a1)


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