Macron and Rutte grow closer to each other through geopolitical shifts and a personal click
French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague on Monday evening. He mainly hopes for Rutte's support for a European rebuttal to Biden's protectionist green industrial policy.
"Really good friends." This is how Prime Minister Mark Rutte described his relationship with French President Emmanuel Macron during a government visit to Paris last March. "Look, I also had a good relationship with [former presidents] Sarkozy and Hollande, but with Macron it really got off the ground," Rutte said, beaming during a press conference at Sciences Po University.
That "good friendship" will be further strengthened on Monday evening, during a visit by Macron to The Hague. In the run-up to the extra European Council, on 9 and 10 February, the French president will visit Rutte to talk about the war in Ukraine, migration and the European economy. Afterwards, they dine together in a restaurant of Rutte's choice, just as Macron took him to the chic restaurant La Rotonde in Paris.
Brexit and Trump
In conversation with NRC in Paris, Hoekstra described the contacts between France and the Netherlands last year as "very good and very intensive". "It's on a completely different level than it was ten, twenty years ago." The Dutch embassy in Paris also sees a difference: where French diplomats confused the Netherlands with Scandinavian countries a few years ago, it is now a "coming and going" of French delegations who want to consult with their Dutch colleagues.
In recent years, the Netherlands has also turned more towards the geopolitical heavyweight France because, according to Hoekstra, it has "learned about geopolitics and the threats from outside Europe that we have to deal with".
With the departure of the British came the realization in both countries: we need each other. This is also the view of analyst Marie Krpata of the Institut français des relations internationales. "The current geopolitical context makes the Netherlands less naïve – in Macron's eyes," she says on the phone from Paris.
Sánchez and Scholz
However, the Netherlands is not the only country with which the French president is tightening ties. Less than two weeks ago, Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez signed a "declaration of friendship", in which they pledge to cooperate more on migration, defence, energy and youth policy. In 2021, Macron did the same with Italy. France has these "very symbolic" statements only with these two countries and Germany. And so not (yet) with the Netherlands.
"The French fear Germany is moving away from the previously so tight Franco-German axis has existed since the German government moved from Bonn to Berlin in 1999, of course, France is now looking for alternative allies, such as the Netherlands."
According to Krpata, the marginalization of France is accelerated by the war in Ukraine, which makes Eastern European countries more assertive. "France, like Germany, has talked to Russia for too long and waited too long to provide military support to Kiev. Now France and Germany must regain credibility on the European stage." That partly explains Macron's hyperactive foreign policy.
Rutte et subventions
The main reason for Macron to seek Rutte now is the American Inflation Reduction Act, says analyst Sébastien Maillard. The IRA contains a huge package of subsidies for greening American industry, making American electric cars, for example, much cheaper to produce than European ones.
However, the Netherlands is also moving more towards Paris at this point, krpata thinks. According to her, European government leaders in the IRA of US President Joe Biden see a continuation of the America First policy of his infamous predecessor Trump. "The Netherlands now also understands that Europe must be more assertive between China and the US and that this cannot be done at national level, but is work for the EU."
On Monday evening, at the press conference after the bilateral consultations, it will become clear what concrete results the Franco-Dutch friendship yields. That's hard to predict, Krpata said.
"I can well imagine that they will announce a few innovative energy projects. But we won't get an answer yet to whether we're going to have a trade war with the U.S. or not."
>> Article published in Dutch on the NRC Website "Macron en Rutte groeien naar elkaar toe door geopolitieke verschuivingen én een persoonlijke klik"