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French toast?

President Macron, who declared on taking office that he’s beholden to no particular ideology, found – and took – the opportunity to provide a French flavour to Europe’s stand on major foreign policy issues without letting historic allegiances, customs, or his own inexperience get in the way of his ambitions.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

When President Emmanuel Macron of France impulsively flew to Moscow last week for a sit down with President Vladimir Putin to try and defuse the crisis in Ukraine, it was clinching evidence – if any were needed ~ that the frenetic pace of French foreign policy under his stewardship shows no sign of abating.

Not only did Mr Macron spend five hours speaking to Mr Putin, but he went on to Kiev the next day to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before flying off to Berlin for an extended tete-a-tete with his German and Polish counterparts.

While opinion among experts is divided on whether this is the way to go, there is unanimity that the hallmark of Mr Macron’s presidency has been his partiality to shuttle diplomacy. The sobriquet “Monsieur Fixit” to describe him is being bandied about by headline writers even in a usually sober journal such as Foreign Affairs. President Macron is up for re-election in just two months, but he is clearly not pausing for breath.

Not even his critics, however, can deny that Mr Macron has transformed the way France asserts its leadership in Europe and internationally. It is worth underlying that the Franco-German engine which powers the European Union has, of late, showed signs of a tuning mismatch. Germany is grappling with energy security issues and its over-dependence on Russian gas has clearly constrained its stance on the Ukraine crisis, a problem France does not have as it derives 75 per cent of its electricity domestically from nuclear energy.

President Macron, who declared on taking office that he’s beholden to no particular ideology, found – and took – the opportunity to provide a French flavour to Europe’s stand on major foreign policy issues without letting historic allegiances, customs, or his own inexperience get in the way of his ambitions.

Yet, writes foreign policy expert Célia Belin: “With time, Mr Macron has paid a growing price for his impatient pragmatism.” So, is the French President more a frequent flyer than a high-flyer; which is to ask, has his overactive diplomacy produced rather underwhelming results? While the outcomes of his initiatives have been rather mixed in the past – including most prominently the trans-Atlantic disaster over the sale of French nuclear submarines to Australia that he pushed before America AUKUS-ed him at the last minute, as it were ~ the true test of his leadership has come towards the end of his term in the form of the West-Russia stand-off over Ukraine.

The Kremlin has denied that President Putin told President Macron at their meeting that Russia would not initiate a “degradation or escalation” of the crisis as the latter had suggested after their conversation. Yet, within a few days of their meeting, Moscow pulled back forces from the Ukrainian border and on Wednesday announced the end of its Crimea military drills even as Mr Putin made noises about continuing diplomatic efforts albeit “not endlessly”. In this context, it is on balance perhaps a good thing that President Macron has jettisoned the policy of ‘masterly inactivity’ which former European colonial powers still tend to adopt as their default position