Offensive liberalism: Emmanuel Macron and the New European Politics

"Can President Macron save the EU as a legitimate liberal institution, through a deliberate re-politicisation of European politics? What he attempts also has the potential to destroy it," writes Benjamin Tallis in his piece for openDemocracy.

Michael Sandel puts his finger on the key problem of recent liberal politics – that liberals, enamoured of technocracy and tolerance have lost their “capacity to inspire” and their power to persuade. He compellingly argues that Barack Obama was initially inspiring in word but less so in deed, falling back too easily on technocratic and neoliberal policies and, like other liberals of recent vintage, avoiding engaging in substantive moral arguments.  

Sandel is not alone in having reached the conclusion that this brand of liberalism has run its course and that if liberal politics is to again inspire and wield influence then it needs fresh “identity, meaning and purpose”. A new approach is needed. French President Emmanuel Macron has already gone far beyond “liberal neutrality” and has taken liberalism on the offensive. In doing so he addresses the concerns of Sandel and others by providing an inspiring and positive vision, and fosters patriotism and community – but at the European rather than the national level.

Some have dismissed Macron as just another centrist, too moderate to make the changes needed to address Europe’s structural problems or as a typical neoliberal, a former investment banker looking after the interests of his ‘own class’. In short, another Obama waiting to happen.

But Macron may be a different kind of liberal, an Offensive Liberal. He may not be the ‘leader of the free world’, but he’s currently its best hope – and the one who has opened a Pandora’s box in Europe. The award of the Charlemagne prize recognises the hope vested in him as the saviour of the EU, but his brand of politics could break rather than make Europe’s liberal future.

The term ‘offensive liberal’, which may also appeal to Macron critics on both left and right, has been used before of course, to describe those such as Tony Blair or Anne-Marie Slaughter who have sought to promote democracy by force. But Macron’s offensive liberalism is different as his recent speeches to the US Congress, the European Parliament and, earlier, at the Sorbonne have shown. This new breed of offensive liberalism amounts to a deliberate re-politicisation of European politics, one that is aimed at saving the EU as a legitimate liberal institution – but which also has the potential to destroy it.


You can read the full article here.

Dr Benjamin Tallis is a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, member of its Centre for European Security and editor-in-chief of New Perspectives.