Macron Goes Fishing

French President Emmanuel Macron is embroiled in a dispute with Britain over French fishing boats and permits.  The dispute is related to the Brexit arrangement between the UK and the EU by which EU nations need permits to fish in UK waters.  Several permits have been given to French fishing boats, but the French want more. Macron has insisted on continuing the fight to get licenses in British territorial waters, 6-12 nautical miles off the UK shores and in the sea off the Jersey coast.  The issue is complicated by the fact that Jersey has granted only temporary licenses while the negotiations continue, but France insists they must be permanent. “We did not get what we wanted.   They are playing with our nerves.” Macron has been adamant, “we are going to continue to fight. We will not abandon our fishermen.”

French fishermen, not satisfied by Macron, are unhappy at the announcement by French maritime minister Annick Girardin that the government was preparing a rescue plan of more than 60 million euros, in essence, a financial compensation package, for owners of boats remaining in port.  On the other hand, Jersey insists that French fishermen were already making catches of fish in its waters.

On November 3, 2021, a French court freed a British trawler impounded in the quarrel between the two countries over fishing rights.  It overturned an earlier demand that the British captain pay a 150,000 euro bond since the trawler had been caught fishing for scallops in French territorial waters without a proper license.

Paris says the UK was denying fishing licenses to which they were entitled. France threatened to ban UK fishing boats from unloading in French ports.  

Macron claims to be acting for Europe, not simply for France. When he emerged politically Macron proposed great plans for Europe, for both instrumental and personal reasons. In his campaign in 2017 he called for a strong France in a strong Europe. He favored a deeper monetary union, more military capacity, called for Europe to increase its defenses, and technological independence. In 2020 he persuaded Germany to agree to a 750-billion-euro plan to aid other members of the EU.  It seemed as if Macron was eager to succeed Angela Merkel as the virtual leader of the EU. He took a hard line with Britain in the Brexit negotiations.

But Macron is less willing to be involved in the character of the EU now that the Polish Constitutional Court has rejected the Court of Justice of the European Union as the dominant judicial body. In this debate between Brussels and Warsaw, the question for Macron is whether to stress the primacy of the French constitution and laws over legislation of the EU. It raises again the issue that was present in 2005 when a referendum in France rejected a proposed European constitution.

Macron has internal problems, with lockdowns, COVID-19 difficulties, and increasing gas and oil prices, but also external ones with the U.S. and the UK.  He remains unhappy about the American-British-Australian consortium responsible for the AUKUS contract, to help Australia build nuclear submarines, which meant Australia rejected the 56 billion euro French submarine contract that Macron had proposed. The rejection of the French contract comes at a time when the French national debt is more than 130% of GDP. Perhaps even more significant is the hurt to pride. Macron said he was blindsided by the arrangement and was given no prior notice of it.  He recalled the French ambassador from Washington.  President Joe Biden did not apologize but termed the event clumsy and not done with a lot of grace.

For Macron, the ambitious world statesman, the would-be iconic leader of European liberals, and with overtones of delusions of grandeur, the AUKUS deal also seemed to ignore France’s claim to be a player in the Indo-Pacific area in which it possesses several French departments, and in which it can be a partner in an alliance to contain China.

A second dispute with the UK, other than fish, concerns the arrival of migrants into Britain. About 15,400 migrants attempted to cross the English Channel in small boats in the first eight months of 2021, of whom 3,500 had been picked up because of difficulties at sea and brought back to France. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “we continue to work extremely closely with the French to prevent these crossings... we need to do more.”

All these issues are relevant to Macron’s reelection campaign for president in the elections in April 2022, and his claim that he needs more time to complete the transformation of France.  His thrust is that he can drive the country forward while his opponents sow division and doubt. He argues that the two candidates from the far-right, Marine Le Pen, head of the National Rally, and Eric Zemmour, TV pundit, focus on immigration and crime while he is a centrist concentrating on unifying a divided nation. The message of Macron is that his detractors fall “into the sickness of the century, which is demagoguery... we wallow in talk of division.  We have to work collectively to build pragmatic solutions.”  

Image: Pictorem

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