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French President Emmanuel Macron has requested an invitation to the upcoming Brics summit set to be held in SA in August. The news has elicited a variety of reactions.

Chinese state media has expressed enthusiasm for the idea while the Russian government is sceptical, questioning whether this is a genuine attempt to work with the Brics or “a Trojan horse” to undermine the unity of the informal grouping. Either way, Macron’s unexpected request is a sign of the growing importance of Brics in world affairs.  

In general, the idea of Macron attending the Brics summit was met with surprise. This reflects how many people have come to see Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and SA) as a counterweight to the Group of Seven (G7). But this is not really the case. Brics and G7 countries meet annually at the Group of 20 (G20), and often conduct larger volumes of trade with one another than with countries in their own blocs. Brics nations are set to host three G20 meetings in a row (India 2023, Brazil 2024 and SA 2025), and co-operation between the groups is expected to continue. 

That said, considering that the Brics bloc specifically advocates the advancement of emerging market economies and the development of a multipolar world order, as a developed nation it might not be appropriate for France to participate in a Brics summit. Nevertheless, Macron’s attendance could have positive effects on global co-operation as geopolitical tensions rise. If a world leader were to be able to transcend ideological barriers and help reconcile developed and developing world powers this would certainly be beneficial. 

As such, inviting France as a guest of the Brics is not an unreasonable suggestion. Macron in particular has demonstrated an awareness of the historic changes unfolding on the global stage. Total Energies recently agreed to sell natural gas to China in yuan, a sign that France would be open to the Brics goal of increasing trade in domestic currencies. Meanwhile, Macron has suggested France would remain neutral in any future conflict between the US and China over Taiwan. Given these factors, Macron’s attendance at a Brics summit would not be entirely out of the question. 

Macron has consistently emphasised Europe’s pursuit of “strategic autonomy”, and France has a history of independent diplomacy. If France could genuinely serve as a bridge between different geopolitical factions, this could give French companies an advantage over their developed market peers in fast-growing emerging market economies, while helping to de-escalate rising tensions. If Macron’s goodwill is sincere, his desire to participate in the Brics summit is worthy of respect.  

To the credit of the French president, he took an active role in trying to prevent the outbreak of war in Ukraine and has consistently sought to champion a European foreign policy independent of the US. Macron’s foreign policy approach bears similarities to that of Charles de Gaulle in this respect. De Gaulle advocated a France with complete autonomy in global affairs, ensuring that major decisions are not imposed upon the country by Nato, the European Community or the US.  

While France did not officially withdraw from Nato, De Gaulle removed the country from its military integrated command, expressing concerns about excessive US influence in the organisation. He also oversaw an independent nuclear development programme that turned France into a nuclear power. Furthermore, he fostered amicable Franco-German relations to establish a European counterbalance to the American and Soviet spheres of influence, which is similar to Macron’s foreign policy stance.   

But as a founding Brics member, Moscow will have a strong say in the matter and it would certainly be controversial if Macron were to attend a conference from which Putin may very well be absent. Brics operates under a principle of consensus, so Macron would not be able to attend the summit if a Brics member state firmly objected. The Ukraine conflict and the US stated goal of containing China have intensified pressure on countries to align themselves with one side or the other. In this context, France faces significant obstacles in convincing the Brics member states that it is truly politically autonomous.  

Harsh criticism

After Macron’s visit to China in April, his call for Europe to pursue greater strategic autonomy met with harsh criticism in much of the US press, and though the French president has hinted at an independent French foreign policy with respect to Taiwan, his government has continued to supply weapons to Ukraine, which has damaged his chances of acting as an impartial mediator in the conflict. Macron’s position contrasts with that of his main political rival, Marine Le Pen, who claims that Crimea should remain part of Russia, and has pulled ahead of Macron in recent polls. 

While France did not join the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, the country did support the invasion of Libya, and the removal of Muammar Ghaddafi, head of the AU at the time. France has also maintained a military presence in a number of its former colonies, including Mali and Burkina Faso, which have led to strained ties and accusations of neocolonialism. In light of these issues, the Brics members may remain cautious in assessing Macron’s controversial appeal, while former French colonies such as Algeria and Tunisia still await responses to their Brics membership requests. 

The only thing that can be said for certain about Macron’s request for an invitation to the upcoming summit is that it highlights the increasing influence of Brics. With dozens of countries queuing up to join the bloc, Brics continues to attract attention as it seeks to make emerging market economies more self-reliant while creating a multipolar world order. These ideals may be considered a challenge to Western dominance, but Macron’s interest in Brics suggests that France may be supportive of the bloc’s objectives.   

Countries such as France and other developed market economies will undoubtedly increase diplomatic engagements with the Brics bloc over time as Brics expands and becomes more influential. This is in the interests of all parties as a more unified political and economic global system benefits everyone. As the EU’s largest trade partner, China certainly appears open to Macron’s request, though other Brics members and aspirants may wish to see the group remain focused on enhancing co-operation among emerging markets, without the presence of advanced economies such as France just yet.  

• Shubitz is an independent Brics analyst.

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