BAKU, Azerbaijan, January 25. President Emmanuel Macron is a rather busy man these days. The ongoing protests against the proposed pension reform have already attracted more than 1 million people. While the country is in chaos, the President prefers to project the image of “business as usual”.
Meanwhile, President Macron’s press office announced his meeting with the Coordinating Council of Armenian Organizations in France (CCAF) officials, and on 25 January, the President is expected to participate in a 200 Euros per person annual dinner of CCAF.
In a different set of circumstances, it would have been a non-event, because the meeting and the dinner will not lead to any significant transformation either in domestic or foreign policy.
Obviously, CAAF has very limited impact, to put it very diplomatically, on the global political processes, and on the pressing domestic issues as well. In principle, the meeting can cater only to the interests of the ethnically Armenian part of the electorate. However, this is somewhat hypocritical considering that President Macron showed little inclination to address the ongoing social protests in France. This is a very important aspect because it creates a logical question, why Emmanuel Macron is interested in addressing the concerns of ethnic Armenian citizens of France more than the concerns of the whole nation? Does one group of citizens deserve preferential treatment?
It is also interesting that Macron is now defined by the protests. The first protests against him took place after he was announced the winner in 2017 before he technically assumed office. Every year he was in office, people protested against the policies of the President. However, nothing is being done to adequately address the grievances of the French population. Macron’s domestic policy remains the key coherence mechanism explaining the social mobilization in France during the previous six years.
It is important to understand that, in terms of domestic policies, Emmanuel Macron retained his office not because of his policies, but despite them. The alternative was worse, and even with this factor in play, the win was a lot more challenging than Macron would have wanted.
Antagonism and vainglory based foreign policy
The French foreign policy was not based on pragmatism in the previous years. In retrospect, France could have had a considerably bigger say in the most relevant political matters, should it execute a different behavioral pattern. However, Paris never adopted a set of strategies that would maximize the outcome of the political course it pursued.
The antagonism of Paris regarding Azerbaijan is based on two reasons. The first reason is the impact of the Armenian diaspora on political life in France. It is understandable that politicians want to retain a high level of recognition and visibility in the future, and listening to the concerns of the electorate is one way to achieve this. For President Macron, this constitutes a low level of personal risk with a high level of possible reward. After all, the president is bound by certain restrictions, and he is unable to grant every wish, even if he wants to do so. In other words, he is under no obligation to implement any of his promises to the Armenian diaspora, while receiving the level of support that he desires. However, he is under a constant barrage of anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric, which distorts and biases his views.
The second reason is the rather strained relations between France and Türkiye. The inability of the French president to pursue meaningful relations with Ankara, and the close level of relations between Azerbaijan and Türkiye, leads to Emmanuel Macron exhibiting symptoms of “tunnel vision” regarding regional affairs.
In other words, the way President Macron sees the whole dynamic of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia is by oversimplifying the issue to make the analysis easier. It is a common trope, to be fair because there are so many elements in policy analysis. By oversimplifying such a complex issue, France does a disservice to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and France as well.
The “friend of my rival” and the “enemy of my friend” approaches are what dictate, at least partly, the position exhibited by Paris vis-à-vis Baku. It is counterproductive, no matter how one looks at it. Being guided by the above-mentioned principles, France has significantly damaged its potential to become a player in the South Caucasus. With the way the situation currently evolves, French participation in any way shape, or form in the peace-building process will be rather challenging to be appreciated by Azerbaijan.
It is important to understand that meeting people representing organizations with little impact and scope during times of crisis projects the image of weakness. Especially, considering that there are more pressing issues in sight of President Macron.
An even bigger problem regarding the participation of the Head of State in these events is the fact that it gives false hope and feeds the false and hostile narrative being promoted by a country, which has no opportunities to achieve desired foreign policy outcomes.
What does French foreign policy mean for the region in general and Armenia specifically?
Sure, France is likely to renew its commitment to support Armenia. Something meaningful may even be done.
The whole issue, however, is a net loss for Armenia. Some 80 years ago, Europe was in a major crisis, with the Second World War in full swing. Slowly, but surely, cooperation between European states took off, largely due to the launch of the European Coal and Steel Community after the subsequent treaty was signed in 1951 in Paris. A few decades after, economic and political integration between European nations made the region one of the global economic centers. Additionally, the European Coal and Steel Community became the catalyst for closer integration, which led to the creation of the European Union.
We are not saying or suggesting that similar integration mechanisms will take place in the South Caucasus. Regional specifics and other variables do not suggest that an increase in the trade always leads to the creation of supranational unions. However, it is certain both Azerbaijan and Armenia could have benefitted from increased trade, as it would have had a pacifying effect and enabled the sides to initiate a smoother process of post-conflict peacebuilding.
By openly supporting Armenia, France deprives both Azerbaijan and Armenia of the possibility to enjoy the values and principles that France aims to promote and defend.
The role that France could have played in the peace-building between Baku and Yerevan would have been based on values, which is the most potent weapon in the soft-power arsenal of European states. However, the actions of President Macron instill false hope in Armenia, limit the possibilities available to Yerevan, and slow down the overall process.
The whole situation constitutes neither a strategic nor a tactical surprise for Azerbaijan. Baku is already used to the strategy of France. The best illustration of Azerbaijan’s ability to deal with the unfriendly decisions of France is the recent reversal of French efforts to promote a biased anti-Azerbaijani resolution to the United Nations Security Council. Again, the inability of France to judge the situation adequately damaged the Armenian position and tarnished the reputation of Paris as a country supporting the principles of international law.
France is, obviously, welcome to shape its foreign policy the way decision-makers in Paris see fit, however, it is the responsibility of Armenia to recognize that not everything done by President Macron is in the best interests of Yerevan. By clinging to the ideas contradicting the established norms, as well as the vision of the world rooted in unjustified ambitions, Armenia loses the opportunities that could have been better explored.