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Will The New French President Shift The Power Balance in Eastern Europe?
14 May, 2017
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What You Need To Know:

✅ The pro-European Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated as France’s 8th president after beating the pro-Russian and far right candidate Marine Le Pen;

✅ Macron’s team is very aware of the situation in Ukraine and in Russia and is interested in reinforcing the capacity of Europe;

✅ Normandy Four Format: “For this moment, this format— even if it’s not functioning well—should be kept as there is no other solution or proposal on the table before September,”- Borys Najman, associate professor at University Paris Est Creteil;

✅ The main issue, according to Najman is to “find a way to construct differently a European Union at the moment.”

The pro-European Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated as France’s 8th president, after beating the pro-Russian and far right candidate Marine Le Pen a week earlier. The election was met with relief in Ukraine, giving its citizens hope that a key ally would continue to reprimand Russia for its war in the country’s east.

According to Borys Najman, associate professor at University Paris Est Creteil, Macron’s team is very aware of the situation in Ukraine and in Russia and is interested in reinforcing the capacity of Europe. In terms of Ukraine, “[Macron’s] team is interested by the integration of the region and special relation with European Union,” says the associate professor. He adds that during the campaign, Macron anticipated Russian interference in the elections.

France, together with Russia, Germany and Ukraine, is a member of the Normandy Four Format. The collective was tasked with diplomatically resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine through the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, and has failed to do so as of yet. Some say a change in leadership in one of the four countries can help accelerate the process, however, Najman says no changes can be made until the German elections in September: “For this moment, this format— even if it’s not functioning well—should be kept as there is no other solution or proposal on the table before September.”

In terms of the future of the European Union, Macron has been the first French President to suggest what the EU should look like in the future. While much of what happens will depend of the Parliamentary elections in mid-June, there is speculation that the French president could change the power dynamic in the region. The main issue, according to Najman is to “find a way to construct differently a European Union at the moment.”

Hromadske special guests Maxim Eristavi and Gulliver Cragg spoke to Borys Najman, Associate Professor at University Paris Est Creteil during The Sunday Show on May 14th, 2017 in Kyiv.

What’s likely to change in terms of French policy towards the East and Eastern Europe generally?

Borys Najman: First of all, Macron’s team is very aware of the situation in Ukraine and Russia, that’s the first very good point. The second thing is that, as you mentioned, all the time today on the news there are many European flags, so they are very pro-Europe and there is a positive project, it’s not anti but it is pro-Europe and reinforcing the capacity of Europe. That is a subject that is very important for defence – the military issue will be discussed quickly, I think. Lastly, something which I think is also very important for Ukraine, is that I think the team is interested in a kind of integration of the region and the special relationship with the European Union. They want to have the kind of agreement that was discussed with Mediterranean countries, but with Ukraine, and the countries that want to have this agreement, they are going to propose something very – let’s say – constructive for developing cooperation with this region.

What about the so-called ‘Normandy format’ under which the Minsk agreements for Donbas are being discussed by France, Ukraine, Germany and Russia? Petro Poroshenko, at his press conference today, said that he expected that format would continue, but does France have any new ideas? Does Emmanuel Macron have any ideas on how to ensure further progress?

Borys Najman: I think before September, the election in Germany, it will be difficult to change the format and also change the proposal of this kind of format. First of all, we need to have a parliamentary election in France in less than one month, and then there’s the elections in Germany, of course, in September. For the moment, this format, even if it’s not functioning very well should be kept because there is no other solution or proposal on the table before September.

Will the new French president change the power dynamic in the region? Obviously the current Russian leadership and President Putin respond very well to the really charismatic European politicians, like Angela Merkel. Will having Macron on her team increase the power of the European Union in negotiating through crises, first and foremost in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine, in Crimea, and on other important political issues across the region?

Borys Najman: Yes, I believe so, but in a way, the question was the same as the one in the Balkans - how do you construct your opinion? The crisis is not just a crisis at the border, as let’s say, Ukrainians to my of view, defending a kind of European construction, but also from Europe to find a way to construct the European Union differently at the moment. That’s the main issue at the moment. I think, yes, Macron is the first French president with some new ideas about the European Union should be in the future. In this way, this is totally changing what we can expect. Maybe we can expect too much in fact from Macron, we’ll see. We should really look at what he will do. We cannot expect something to be done before the election for the parliament, which is mid-June. So after the election, for sure, there will be a proposal on the table.

A lot of the English language coverage of the French elections, and then the Russian involvement in the French elections, tried to paint a one-dimensional picture of Russia dominating European politics, or Russia intervening in European politics. Now, we see that maybe this factor was important but it didn’t deliver the victory of a pro-Russian candidate. Do you think that it changed the whole discourse on Russia’s role in the elections? Do you think that Russia’s ability to influence elections one way or another was overhyped?

Borys Najman: No, I think this was very well explained in the New York Times paper - Macron’s team anticipated the attack, and so they purposely put unimportant information on computers, but they let this mechanism of stealing mail be done. They delivered information on purpose that was of no interest, so they were aware of how to proceed. You have to be aware that the attack during the campaign against Macron from "Komsomolskaya Pravda" etc. were very tough on his wife, they said that he was a homosexual and so on. So the attack was quite tough during the campaign, so we shouldn’t underestimate [this]. French people don’t care about private life, they do not consider this a topic that should be discussed in an election and you shouldn’t attack somebody unless this private life has something to do with politics directly, like a private business or something, but not your private life. You live your private life as you want.