Emmanuel Macron surprised with his speech after the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan on August 16. By choosing to speak on TV in the evening news on an international politics issue, Emmanuel Macron broke up the long list of 8 consecutives speeches on the health crisis management over the last 16 months. If the chosen subject shows the willingness to return to the high ground of the presidential status, it led the President to put back on front of the stage his famous “at the same time” which made him win in 2017. At its own risks.
An evening news with the President of the Republic who talks about Afghanistan rather than Covid-19
Emmanuel Macron has chosen to speak at 8pm, time of the evening news of the major television networks, to inform French people on an international situation requiring strong decisions by France.
No health or economic crisis issues on the agenda, it’s the time for foreign policy and the role of France on the international scene. Emmanuel Macron used pedagogy to explain the current situation in Afghanistan to French people – historical reminder, steps of international cooperation, France’s commitment on Afghan territory, continuity of French politics from Jacques Chirac to himself, through Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, failure of the construction of a democracy, sudden return of The Taliban… – and thus prepare his audience to the political decisions taken to deal with the situation.
A willingness to look at the big picture…
Solemn and firm, Emmanuel Macron positioned himself as a President anxious for France to take its place on the international scene : by putting forward the values inherited from the Enlightenments, Emmanuel Macron has first justified the role France has to play in the repatriation of Afghan who supported Western intervention and more largely intellectuals and artists threatened by the new power in place: “Our duty and our dignity to protect those who help us”, “We will help them because it is the honor of France to stand by those who share our values”. By defending the need to take “joint initiatives” with European countries and an active role of France in the international effort, he has then positioned France as a driving force for international cooperation and European integration.
…which doesn’t escape the controversy
But through a sentence and just 27 words, everything changes, the solidarity with people in danger gives way to the fear of a new exodus of refugees: “We have to anticipate and protect us against important irregular migratory flows that would endanger those who take those paths and would feed the traffic of any kind”.
By mentioning this subject, with especially cold and distant words, Emmanuel Macron surprised and triggered a polemic on a subject that the far right and right-wing cherish. While his conservator European allies demonstrate empathy and solidarity with the local population – Boris Johnson promised to welcome 20 000 refugees, Angela Merkel is open to a “controlled” reception of refugees – Emmanuel Macron’s preventive firmness didn’t go down well, opposing the looping images of despair and chaos of the Afghan population.
Although Emmanuel Macron promised that France will take its part in “an international, organized and fair effort” in favor of endangered people, the firmness of his speech on the migratory flows takes precedence over his humanitarian promise, unbalancing his “at the same time”.
Political tactics or communication mistake?
An imbalance who caused outrage of numerous left-wing politicians as well as NGOs and intellectual figures. We have even witnessed a sort of bidding war between left-wing and ecologist mayors on their willingness to welcome refugees, while the right didn’t come to the rescue of the President’s hard line. The “at the same time” -humanity and security- didn’t work and the controversy swelling, the President had to intervene the next day to make the after-sale service of his speech on Twitter and in front of the media: “some people want to misinterpret what I said about Afghanistan: France does and will continue to do its duty to protect those who are most threatened”. Return of the balance towards the left hemisphere of his “at the same time” and new proof of his extreme sensitivity when it comes to communication.