BRATISLAVA – French President Emmanuel Macron sought to mend barriers with Eastern Europeans at a conference in Slovakia, telling a largely regional audience he wants a more collaborative relationship with former Soviet states.
« We haven’t listened enough to you and your calls for recognition of your painful history and memories, » he told an audience at the GLOBSEC security forum in the Slovak capital.
“Some have said that you have missed opportunities to remain silent; I say that sometimes we have missed opportunities to listen to you. That time is over,” she said, referring to a coup by former French president Jacques Chirac in 2003 that offended Eastern Europeans.
“I don’t think there is a Western Europe and an Eastern Europe, an old Europe and a new; there is only one Europe… with the will to build unity,” she said.
Policy notes that worked well with Eastern Europeans included saluting NATO’s force, acknowledging the experience of many countries formerly under Soviet rule, and supporting a path for Ukraine towards NATO membership .
The French president also said that although France has been criticized as « arrogant », « distant » and « uninterested » in the region, it has tried to do more. His comments seemed to strike a chord with the delegates, who applauded him warmly during his opening remarks.
The speech represents a change of tone for the French president, who has previously distanced himself from a tougher approach towards Russia by former Soviet states. In the past, Macron had warned against aligning with more hawkish countries, thus risking prolonging the conflict in Ukraine.
And there is little love lost for the French president in the east. Since the start of the war, Macron has been targeted by Eastern European leaders for pursuing talks with Russia and logging hours of phone calls with Vladimir Putin.
« It made sense to me that with a strong US-German relationship nowadays, Russia out of the picture, France should look to improve its relations with » Central and Eastern Europe, said a senior diplomat from the Central Europe who complimented the speech.
Previously, Macron’s statements that Russia should not be humiliated or that security guarantees should be provided have contributed to the perception of an ambiguous attitude towards Russia’s aggression.
But in Bratislava, the French president reiterated his commitment to support Ukraine « in the long term ».
“We must help Ukraine conduct an effective counteroffensive. At stake is a lasting peace. We must be clear: a ceasefire is not enough, we will recreate a frozen conflict which will be another war for tomorrow,” she said.
Support for Ukraine
At GLOBSEC, Macron also called for « strong and tangible » security guarantees for Ukraine ahead of a major NATO summit in Vilnius in July. In recent weeks, Ukrainians have renewed their push for a concrete path to membership, working hard to sway wary alliance members.
The French president said Ukraine should receive security guarantees, not only because it « protects Europe » but also because it is « so well equipped ».
« If we want sustainable peace and we want to be credible to Ukraine, we have to include it in a security architecture, » he told delegates at the forum.
While there is widespread awareness that Ukraine will not be able to join the alliance while it is still at war with Russia, NATO members are divided on how they should respond to Ukraine’s current push for membership .
Macron’s comments are likely to be read as a gesture to many Eastern Europeans who think Ukraine’s allies should be sending positive signals about its bid for NATO membership.
In Bratislava, while Macron said there was unlikely to be consensus on full membership for Ukraine, he gave insight into what option he might support for Ukraine.
« We have to build something between Israeli-style security guarantees and full-fledged membership, » he said.
Lili Bayer contributed to the reporting.