Macron’s Mideast Policy Not to Differ Much from Hollande’s: IAI Expert

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The head of the Security and Defense Program at the Italian Institute of International Affairs (IAI) said French president-elect Emmanuel Macron will not radically change the country’s policy towards the Middle East.

Macron’s Mideast Policy Not to Differ Much from Hollande’s: IAI Expert

Macron's policy towards the Middle East shall be in strong continuity with that of Hollande,” Jean-Pierre Darnis told the Tasnim News Agency.

Darnis is Head of the Security and Defense Program at IAI and associate professor at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis. He has held teaching positions at the École Militaire Supérieure, the University of Saint Etiennne, LUISS University and Sciences Po. He was the recipient of a fellowship from ISPI in Milan and won a post-doctoral Lavoisier fellowship from the Foreign Affairs Ministry (Paris). He currently coordinates the masters degree program in “Languages and International Affairs” at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis and is a mentor for the NATO Defense College senior course.

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?

Darnis: Between the first and the second election day of the presidential elections, an important face-to-face TV political debate was organized between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. Macron won the debate, and Marine Le Pen showed her incompetency, specifically about economic issues, being vague and contradictory about her proposal to exit the Euro. This debate has taken an important part in favor of Macron between the 2 voting days and explains why exit polls didn't register the dynamic in favor of Macron.

Macron is very well prepared on European dossiers. For the rest of the international political pattern, he has built up his expertise with a team of advisors such as Francois Heisbourg (FRS, on defense questions) and Clement Beaune (on European questions) but also gathering strong expertise from foreign affairs ministry, intelligence services and think tanks. Again, Macron is a pragmatic political leader, being both "value" (classic French humanism) and "business" (strong ties with French business community) oriented.

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

Darnis: Macron wants to change France's domestic policy. His agenda is a mix of reformist policies, with liberalization (labor market flexibility), measures against corruption (political responsibility forbidden to have family member within their staff) and investment in education. He is in favors of women’s taking responsibilities within the government. He will have to fight against lobbies such as trade unions, specifically on the flexibility measures he wants to promote.

Tasnim: What kind of policy he may adopt towards the Middle East, Syria in particular?

Darnis: Macron's policy towards the Middle East shall be in strong continuity with Hollande's one. He has developed a strong collaboration pattern with Jean-Yves Le Drian, the defense minister, and shall follow the same lines as developed during Hollande’s presidency. About Syria, Macron has confirmed his priority to fight against Daesh (ISIS) and he has declared to be in favor of an international military intervention after the Khan Sheikoun bombing. He has also expressed no explicit criticism about the Shayrat airfield bombing, following the general pattern of Hollande’s government who was willing to intervene already in 2013 and was then blocked by the US decision not to proceed. Generally, Macron has expressed his vision of a "general solution" for Syria, taking into account all parts. He is very critical of Assad's regime but also expresses his understanding not to repeat the same error that has been done with the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

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 relations will change under Macron?

Darnis: Clearly, Macron does not appear as a pro-Russian leader. Again he is following Hollande's presidency line but has also been disturbed by the hacking of his political party website, hacker teams with some kind of Russian pattern. Furthermore, Russia has sustained Macron's opponents Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon. Cyber-attacks coming from Russia is a very sensitive issue in Paris and could lead to some kind of retaliation. The supposed Russian cyber-attacks have backfired for Russia's interests, creating anger against Russia while Macron's original position towards Russia was rather realistic and neutral.

The French-Russian relations could change if Russian-US relations change, meaning Russia understand that there is a strong critical judgment within the EU and the USA about several aspects, including Crimea and the "civil war" in Ukraine. Ukraine is still a key issue and the 2014 Kiev agreement is the roadmap for France and the EU. If Russia wants to open a more cooperative period with France, Kiev agreement is the key. But no real change shall be expected on the French side if not preceded by some opening moves by Russia.

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