British Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped to be in Paris on Tuesday with a strong popular mandate for a "hard" Brexit, but instead she will face French President Emmanuel Macron isolated and in disarray.
She is a 60-year-old right wing veteran who gambled on a snap election, but lost spectacularly. A week is a long time in politics, and May went from a double digit lead to a loss of the Conservative party's majority. May is still looking at all the options – including a deeply contentious coalition with the anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ rights DUP party - to gain a critical narrow minority.
"Wise to expect the unexpected in politics"
By contrast, Macron is poised to emerge from legislative elections with the huge parliamentary majority that May thought was in the bag.
May and Macron will meet at the Presidential Élysée Palace on Tuesday afternoon before a working dinner and will then attend the France versus England friendly football match at the Stade de France in the evening.
May will look to prove what the UK can still offer, by agreeing a new counter-terror strategy with the French president, vowing to fine tech companies such as Facebook and Google if they do not step up efforts to combat online radicalisation.
Speaking ahead of her trip to Paris, May said in a statement: "The counterterrorism cooperation between British and French intelligence agencies is already strong, but President Macron and I agree that more should be done to tackle the terrorist threat online.”
The prime minister will also highlight how both countries have been hit recently by terror attacks in London, Manchester, Nice and Paris. France has arranged for a minute's silence before kick-off in remembrance of the victims in London and Manchester. French organisers have also switched the order of the anthems which will see home fans sing "God Save the Queen" last.
‘Dead woman walking’?
But uncertainty about May's future is overshadowing everything mere days before the Brexit negotiations in Brussels were due to start.
"Everyone assumes that she's a zombie," Francois Heisbourg, a former French diplomat and chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told AFP.
A quote from May’s former cabinet colleague George Osborne on a popular BBC television show is following her everywhere: the now editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper labeled her a "dead woman walking".
Macron on the other hand is stronger than ever, with his new centrist party ‘La République En Marche !’ (Republic on the Move or REM) on course for a landslide victory in the election that concludes next weekend.
Macron's stunning election has also helped tip the balance further away from Britain, with the European Union appearing stronger and more united than many observers expected.
When Britain voted to leave the EU in June last year, some analysts saw it triggering a domino effect which could lead to the unravelling of the post-war European integration project.
But elections in Austria, the Netherlands and then France have failed to produce the results that eurosceptic parties were hoping for and, in the case of France, have led to the opposite: the election of a fervently pro-European leader.
May and Macron had been expected to discuss Brexit, and May hopes to find a friendly ear which will be crucial for the UK during Britain's divorce from the European Union.
He will certainly be helpful, but most likely in slamming the door behind Britain:
Macron believes in a federal Europe but that was always going to be difficult with the UK’s squawking at the very idea.
If French voters see a floundering UK outside of the bloc, it will be all the better for the pro-EU Macron and all the worse for the dangerously popular pro-‘Frexit’ far right National Front party. Plus, France has a unique opportunity to grab the jobs in finance and manufacturing that are currently in the UK, but in fact need to be in the eurozone for a number of tax and tariff measures.
Macron looks like the new ‘leader of the EU’
Russell Foster, an expert on European and international relations at King's College London, said that Macron "is now looking more and more like the leader of the EU".
And he warned that the 39-year-old, who has made clear his contempt for Brexit and the leaders of the Leave campaign, "wants a hard Brexit precisely because he is so pro-European".
The French president is eager to show the benefits of EU membership and is intent on proving that the 27-member bloc, excluding Britain, is the best shield for European citizens in an age of globalisation.
"This is Emmanuel Macron's short window of opportunity to push for a very strong federalist Europe," Foster added.
The two leaders are set to hold a press conference, which the press pack will be watching with bated breath – will it be another Macron master class, such as the now infamous handshakes with Trump and unflinching Putin face-off?
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2017-06-13