Those who share our vision of ‘cooperative globalisation’, of an interconnected world with open trade and fairer societies, will surely welcome the visit to Australia in recent days by French President, Emmanuel Macron. It follows on the heels of his triumphant visit to Washington and, back home in France, the exceptionally moving address by his Prime Minister on ANZAC Day, lauding Australia’s first effective global role, on the Western Front in WW1.
These days, Australia takes France seriously and vice versa, a relationship completely transformed over the past 20 years. It took both sides a long time to realise that we have much more in common than great lifestyles and enviable tourist destinations. Our values and cultures are in fact quite similar and we are two nations capable of a shared world view and, as it has become apparent, of having greater impact by working more closely together, in Australia, in our neighbourhood, Asia and globally.
These positive outcomes, however, did not happen by accident. They are the result of careful and at times painstaking work on both sides, not only by our political leaders, but also from industry and society. With some pride, the Global Foundation was centrally involved in the early re-ignition of the Australia-France (and the Australia-EU) relationship.
The launch of the Global Foundation by Prime Minister John Howard in May 1998 (20 years ago) was accompanied by the visit, for that very purpose, by the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Frenchman, Michel Camdessus.
Our effective, informal relationship with the IMF continues today, via its French Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, who first starred at our 2007 Summit in Melbourne, when she was a junior Minister in the Sarkozy Government. There was not a dry eye in the house when she made ‘impromptu’ remarks at our gala dinner with the PM, about France never forgetting the contributions of Australian soldiers on its battlefields, including those of both the father and grandfather of John Howard. More recently, Christine endorsed our 2012 Summit, via a video message from Washington. Who can forget her outstanding Q&A interview on the ABC that we arranged during her visit to Australia for the G20? She then led the participation in our 2014 and 2016 Rome Roundtable meetings.
Six months before the Foundation launched, back in September 1997, Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, against much prevailing advice, led our first ever business and civic mission to Brussels, where he turned the poisonous tide of Australia-EU relations with the late, formidable Lord Leon Brittan. Tim then captained our EU discussions in Paris in 1999, where we were hosted on that occasion by French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, with Lord Brittan again joining us. A year later, Prime Minister John Howard and EU Commissioner Lord Chris Patten joined our business-led mission, again in Paris, the start of an uptick in Australia-France/EU relations.
Overlapping that era, two outstanding French political intellectuals, Michel Rocard and Pascal Lamy, with their respective affections for Australia, engaged with and mentored the work of the Foundation.
Pascal Lamy took over from Brittan as EU Commissioner for Trade and that close friendship has been maintained ever since, through his time as Director General of the WTO and beyond. He was later honoured by the Foundation (as was Lagarde) with a Global Achievement Award. Latterly, his career has continued to intertwine with the work of the Foundation, in our various roundtable meetings in Paris, Sydney, Rome and elsewhere.
One such occasion is memorable and has obvious contemporary resonance.
Pascal Lamy had chaired a landmark report for Oxford University on the reform of global governance, for which the Foundation has a deep and continuing interest and engagement.
The Foundation offered to host a French launch event for Pascal and his report in Paris in 2014. That became possible through the courtesy of great supporters of our work, Dr Samuel and Mrs Judith Pisar, distinguished Americans living in Paris who were first connected to us by Sir Zelman Cowen. Sam Pisar (now deceased) had first studied in Australia under the tutelage of Sir Zelman and then went on to great international heights, as a lawyer and statesman. Among the distinguished French and Australian guests at lunch at the Pisars lovely Parisian home that day was Michel Rocard, an exceptional man and mind, who also, as it turned out, became one of the most influential mentors to the person I am about to talk about.
Seated on my right at that lunch was a quiet young man, then an advisor to the President of France. Emmanuel Macron was polite and intense, happy to listen and lend his support to Pascal Lamy.
He was fascinated by the subject matter and intrigued about the work of the Global Foundation, this Australian entity staging such an event at the social and political heart of Paris. As a result, he maintained good contact with the Foundation as he moved to become Minister of the Economy for France, with his considerable interest in our leadership role with the formation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. And then, suddenly, a little later on, from almost out of the blue, Macron launched his sensational campaign to outflank his traditional rivals and win the French Presidency. What a story! Let me return to the Macron-Lamy connection later.
The Australian submarine contract with France is a fortunate and timely manifestation of new possibilities, including but not limited to the massive spending on the submarines themselves, but also with the attendant benefits that could flow more widely to industry and society in Australia, if managed cleverly. For example, defence these days is as much about data management as it is about metal-bashing and it is not difficult to imagine downtown Adelaide, for example, as a well-spring of data development and tech-rich industries. Bear in mind also that the best French civilian firms already operate successfully in Australia, as elsewhere globally and this too is a base upon which to build with Australian talent.
In our neighbourhood, much fuss has been made lately of the rising competitive influences in the Pacific and the slow realisation – in Australia, at least – that France remains a major and active Pacific power, providing enormous funding and stability in its territories and more broadly. The Foundation knows this, having co-hosted with Jean-Michel Severino, the head of the French Development Agency at the time and a former Vice President for Asia of the World Bank, a roundtable discussion in New Caledonia 12 years ago. Not many then realised that France shares its longest common border with Australia – with Queensland, in fact. Make no mistake, President Macron’s visit to our corner of the world these past days was largely about ensuring that New Caledonia remains part of France when it votes on independence later this year. Australians should dearly hope that this is the outcome.
All of this came back full circle this past March when the French Ambassador to Fiji joined the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Acting PM of Fiji, our leading members and others for the Foundation’s Pacific Islands Roundtable in Suva, where we discussed investment action to address climate change in the Pacific. France is at the centre of this critical environmental and political endeavour and we learned in Fiji that Australia, which ought to be a regional and global champion of the Pacific and its climate challenges, has been less than the exemplar it ought to be.
Bear in mind that the Foundation has for some time championed the involvement of Pacific Island states in its global programs and has facilitated their ability to benefit from multilateral, rather than competitive approaches, to development. News this week that PNG has just been confirmed as a new member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, thanks to our specific intervention, is gratifying.
In Asia, France remains an active player, partly through its post-colonial legacy in Indo-China, even more so in its contemporary business engagement. Again, the Foundation has partnered with French development agencies and business in shared efforts in South-East Asia, in particular. As experienced at our Kuala Lumpur Roundtable last October, focused on infrastructure development in ASEAN, Australia so often continues to underestimate its ability to bring its considerable know-how and influence to bear in our South-East Asian region. Maybe a renewed French and Australian connection in South-East Asia could be useful?
Globally, France sits in the top echelon of great powers, as one of five members of the UN Security Council and the key partner to Germany in designing EU affairs. Today, however, France is much more than that. With its brilliant, young leader, who cleverly uses the symbols of French soft and hard power, France under Emmanuel Macron has assumed the mantle of moral global leadership of the West, at a time when the rest of the West, including Australia, seems less certain of itself and less bold in leading in global affairs.
The respected Foreign Editor of the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman, recently has written about the loneliness of Emmanuel Macron for this reason. On the other hand, it could be argued that Macron’s equally important partners today are to be found elsewhere than in the West, in steering a better form of inclusive and sustainable globalisation.
China, for example, has landed as a world power. Yet, China needs interlocutors to help it find its way in the world order, one that will require the best of the past to be retained, yet allow strategic space for new faces, but also new ways of understanding and therefore shaping the world. What brought us prosperity over the past decades, whether we in the West like it or not, has to be re-imagined and re-designed for a new mix of real power. This will not be easy, for nations, as for citizens, to grasp.
Which takes us to China’s ambitious Belt & Road Initiative. While the concept of inter-connectivity and joined-up supply chains is easy to agree with, in principle, its implementation has been, at least, less than adequate, for all sorts of reasons.
It was Emmanuel Macron who symbolically began his visit to China last January on the old Silk Road and who brought with him a well-bred stallion, Vesuve de Brekka, as a resonant gift to the President of China. President Macron said that the Belt and Road, to work enduringly, had to be a two-way strategy. He was right. China cannot emerge in the world as a successful global actor unless it adapts and fuses a newly shaped East-West modus operandi. In the Global Foundation, we call this the need for a ‘dialogue of civilisations’, that respects deep cultural roots and differing expectations. We’ll be exploring pathways through this East-West apparent dichotomy at our Rome Roundtable meeting next month.
This idea of a two-way street is an offer of hope from Emmanuel Macron, not one of arrogance. It is expression of collaboration, based upon a confidence, an optimism that Emmanuel Macron saw in the Australian psyche, for example, wishing he had more of this quality to support him back home in France. So why wouldn’t Australia share the same confidence and optimism and work with France and China on Belt and Road, to make it work for all concerned? Is Australia missing out here through a lack of ambition, of initiative?
Whether he chooses to or not, Emmanuel Macron is now the ‘global navigator’ for the West. He has inherited and grasped this leadership role with the Paris Climate Accord (‘there is no Planet B’) and soon he plans to tackle a much thornier and pivotal subject – global peace.
In November this year, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Armistice from World War 1, to be attended by dozens of world leaders, Emmanuel Macron plans to launch the inaugural Paris Peace Forum. This is intended as a kind of post-Davos-era, annual event that will encourage those who are committed to the notion of global peace and all that this attends, to meet, share and shape something of the new, yet still fuzzy, means of global governance for the 21st Century.
The Chair of the Steering Committee for the inaugural Paris Peace Forum will be Pascal Lamy, who intends to ensure that the Foundation’s Rome Roundtable meeting, that he will help to lead next month, will be a useful precursor to much more expansive Paris event.
Sometimes, as Australians, we overstate our importance. That sense comes through in many dealings with Asian nations, where humility and self-reflection are often more than helpful. On the other hand, knowing what to pursue and when, as a confident, yet not arrogant nation, with Western roots and an Asian and global future, is a balance that Australia has not yet got quite right – but could.
At this precise moment, 20 years on from our founding and 100 years on from that epochal moment in history, 40 year old Emmanuel Macron is the hope of the side, at least of the Western world. We should all actively wish and act to support him and France in bringing about the new global order that we and our descendants might prefer.
Steve Howard is Secretary General of the Global Foundation. He has been invited to contribute to planning for the Paris Peace Forum and also to attend, along with other interested members of the Global Foundation. Steve was awarded the Chevalier l’Ordre de Merite by the Government of France in 2004 for his contribution to France-Australia relations. Fifteen Australian Patrons and members of the Global Foundation will participate in its Rome Roundtable meeting on 15 & 16 June.