‘We Cannot Afford to Set Limits’

French President Emmanuel Macron summoned the leaders of French opposition parties to his Palace office, laying out his vision and leaving attendees worried and confused.

The leaders of France’s political parties attended a Ukraine war meeting at the Élysée Palace on Thursday, where they were briefed by President Macron and shown military maps. Macron’s insistence on continuing to talk about a theoretical deployment to Ukraine is ruffling feathers in Germany, which has pleaded with its European neighbour to please stop bringing it up.

The French party leaders, many of whom are decidedly at odds with Macron and his politics, have resisted other such all-party meetings before but the President’s recent comments on the Ukraine War were evidently enough to bring them in.

The meeting was clearly a change of mood for Macron too, given that it entailed treating as legitimate political actors parties like Marine Le Pen’s right-populist National Rally, which otherwise his deputy branded “Vladimir Putin’s footsoldiers” after the party criticised his position of being open-minded on sending troops to Ukraine last week.

While Macron may have been hoping for buy-in from his political opponents, most left reporting confusion and concern at what they heard inside. The National Rally was predictably scathing, their party president, Jordan Bardella, criticising Macron’s willingness to flaunt a “go to war” policy, while the establishment-right Republicans leader Eric Ciotti said that he used the meeting to reiterate their opposition to direct military intervention.

Given that no minds seem to have been changed by the summons and discussions, Ciotti mused after the summit: “I very sincerely wonder about the usefulness of this meeting”.

Politicians from the left also seemed unconvinced. Manuel Bompard of the populist-left France Unbowed party said simply “I arrived worried and I left more worried”, while the Communist Party decried “dangerous” escalation by Macron.

French conservative newspaper Le Figaro meanwhile reports a source “close to the President” that reassures Macron is not pushing for war, but rather keeping an open mind and not being afraid to say so. They are said to have remarked: “France is not in an escalatory attitude. We respond with proportionality… But if we are not ready to say that we exclude nothing, we take the risk of a replay of what happened before February 24, 2022”.

Macron, for his own part, said at the talks: “We cannot afford to set limits for ourselves in the face of an enemy who sets no limits”.

Somewhat clarifying Macron’s position, perhaps, is his minister of defence who insists deploying actual combat troops on the ground is not being discussed, but support troops are. This may mean deploying French soldiers to Ukraine to train Ukrainian soldiers on home ground, or combat engineers to detect and remove landmines, a major element of the conflict and one if not tackled that will plague the Ukrainian countryside for the long term.

Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu said such things should be discussed because “we are no longer in the same situation as two years ago… The counter-offensive did not work, and without offence to our allies, the situation is no longer the same as in Washington… The history of France is not being weak. Maintaining the balance of power is neither being weak nor being an escalator. We don’t want to show weakness to Moscow.”

Another initiative France is working on, he said, is to have defence companies set up factories in Ukraine to produce weapons and repair systems in-country.

Macron’s words also have not landed well in Germany, where the French President’s first comments breaking the defacto omerta on discussing NATO troops in Ukraine caused despair. German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Friday that he absolutely rejected the idea and asked for it to not be discussed any more.

Die Welt reports Pistorius said during his visit to Finland on Friday that: “Nobody really wants boots on the ground in Ukraine, there is a discussion about it now, so we should stop it at this point”. His Finnish counterpart agreed, Defense Minister Antti Häkkänen saying: “Nobody supports the ‘boots on the ground’ idea now”.

Russia, naturally, expresses their own anger at any suggestion that Western states might become more entangled in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Responding to Macron’s quip that there should be no limits, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev — who is pretty well known now for daily threats to nuke the West at the slightest provocation — said: “It means there are no more red lines for Russia with respect to France”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, meanwhile, that: “Macron is convinced of his line to inflict a strategic defeat on our country. He continues to raise the level of France’s direct involvement in this war. From our point of view, this in no way corresponds to the interests of the French people… Macron begins to discuss the issue of the possibility of sending military contingents to the Ukrainian conflict zone. On the other hand, the French foreign minister categorically denies the possibility of sending such contingents.”

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