As he was leaving office, Barack Obama anointed Angela Merkel as leader of the democratic world. As so often on world politics, Obama got this wrong.
Merkel seems tired, unable to reform a sluggish German economic model stuck in 20th century certitudes, and can only watch helplessly as 20th century political formations like her CDU or the social democratic SDP are overtaken by new populists like the Greens on the left or the far-right AfD. She is not even able to organise her own succession even though in just two years her reign must end.
So step forward Emmanuel Macron who showed at the G7 gathering in Biarritz he knew what he wanted and knew how to get it.
In one of the most relentless 72 hours of international politics seen in decades, Macron got Trump to agree that the OECD should oversee an effective global digital tax to make the GAFA behemoths of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon finally pay some tax on their uncontrolled, untaxed mega-profits. At the same time, Trump appeared to pull back from a tax on French wine exports – a rare reversal from a president in love with trade wars.
Macron may have allowed Britain’s buffoonish Prime Minister to (briefly) put his feet up when they discussed Brexit but the message for Johnson was clear. Europe is not going to destroy the single market or threaten peace in Ireland in order to appease the Dublin-hating DUP or Farage’s fellow travellers in the cabinet.
After five weeks running around like a clockwork mouse shouting out insults at Brussels and European heads of government, Boris Johnson was firmly told by Macron that if he wants to lead Britain over Beachy Head to crash on the economic rocks of a no deal in two months, then the responsibility will be his and his alone.
Covering the PM with endless Gallic smiles and charm, Macron made clear that trying to depict European leaders as those to blame for the results of England’s populist nationalism wouldn’t work.
It was a bad G7 for John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, who has been breathing threats of war against Iran all summer. Macron produced Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, for an intensive session of talks to urge Tehran to abide scrupulously by the 2015 nuclear deal.
Trump has never been that close to a top Iranian but he did not throw any hissy fits as he did at the Canadian G7 last year and even said he would be willing to hold high-level meetings with the Iranian regime – if not at this time.
Macron also did Trump a big favour by inviting the US president’s best global friend, Vladimir Putin, to France and holding a friendly news conference with him on live television. It wasn’t at Biarritz as Putin was booted out of the G7 after his annexation of Crimea in 2014, but at the French president’s summer residence further along the French coast.
Putin agreed to hold a new round of the so-called Normandy talks with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who, like Macron, is an energetic 41-year-old reformer unlike the ageing, stuck-in-the-mud Russian president.
Bringing Putin almost to the G7 looked like Macron’s gift to Trump, who keeps repeating that his Kremlin chum should be at the top table in world affairs.
Was there a secret agreement that at next year’s G7 it will be a G8 with Putin back in the fold and in exchange Trump would opt for jaw-jaw not war-war over Iran? We’ll find out in time.
In any event, there was a feel of high-level quality diplomatic energy in Biarritz which has not been seen for some time. Macron’s initiative put other G7 leaders to shame.
Combined with his recovery in the opinion polls, the crumbling of 20th century French political parties into tiny rumps of voters, and the sullen irrelevance of Marine Le Pen as she sees her beloved Brexit going badly adrift, it has not been a bad summer for the French president and for his idea that Europe should be more confident about playing a global role.
Denis MacShane served in the Foreign Office as PPS and Minister of States 1997-2005 and then as UK delegate the Council of Europe 2005-2010. His new book "Brexiternity. The Uncertain Future of Britain" will come out next month
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