Emmanuel Macron was in Beijing meeting Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and had stood in front of the European flag at the People’s Palace next to the Chinese leader. There was no French banner in sight. This could be viewed as highly unusual as Mr Macron has no formal European Union mandate but according to a commentary piece from Politico, “it appeared to show that, for China at least, the French president is viewed as the leader of Europe”. Both leaders looked on as Chinese Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan and incoming EU Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan signed an EU-China agreement on geographic indications (GI), providing intellectual property protections for European gourmet food exports to China.
But in what could be seen as another example of Mr Macron’s stranglehold of Europe, he had already made a pre-emptive announcement of the European Commission’s deal some 48 hours earlier.
Throughout his visit to China, Macron detailed the clear objectives for the EU, while lashing out at its past performance and stressing the need for it to be a global superpower.
The commentary piece from Politico stated: “His decision to discuss the EU’s affairs so often, and so publicly, while on a foreign trip outside the bloc was striking, and suggested a leader straining for a more cohesive European position abroad — with himself leading the charge.”
In a joint press statement with President Xi on Wednesday, Mr Macron said: “I discussed with President Xi Jinping my desire to build a stronger European sovereignty, and I very deeply believe it is in the interest of our big partners to have a united and strong Europe as an interlocutor in the face of big contemporary issues.”
Could tension be brewing between EU superpowers?
Could Emmanuel Macron be eyeing up the EU throne?
The GI signing ceremony could suggest Mr Hogan is the French President’s “subordinate”, which is strictly not the case, but Mr Macron has already flexed his muscles in recent weeks and was a leading voice in the election of incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
An Elysée official played down the ceremonial move in Beijing, and told Politico: “There was a desire, by all sides, to do this signature at the presidential level to underscore the importance of the agreement, and Macron’s visit provided the best opportunity.”
According to Politico, “his assertive choice to embody European leadership on the international stage risks ruffling feathers in Brussels and some other European capitals”.
But in a possible further sign of Mr Macron’s growing authority, the French President warned that a lack of leadership is causing the “brain death” of the NATO military alliance.
READ MORE: Macron heads to China to protect EU from impact of US trade war truce
Emmanuel Macron met Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping
In an interview with the Economist, he cited the failure from the US to consult NATO prior to pulling toops out of northern Syria, and questioned whether the military alliance was still committed to collective defence.
Mr Macron told the newspaper: “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO.”
He warned European members of the alliance they could no longer rely on the US to defend NATO, which was formed nearly 70 years ago at the start of the Cold War to boost the security of Western Europe and North America.
Article Five of NATO’s founding charter states the alliance will produce a collective response if one member is attacked.
Macron rattled after bombshell poll reveals French leader losing [POLL]
UK’s future is in the hands of EU leaders – if Boris loses election [COMMENT]
EU PANIC: Macron has killed key ‘broken’ Brussels plot [INTERVIEW]
Donald trump has been highly critical of NATO recently
But Mr Macron threw huge doubt on whether this is still valid, and when asked, replied: “I don’t know.”
He is quoted as saying the alliance “only works if the guarantor of last resort functions as such. I’d argue that we should reassess the reality of what Nato is in the light of the commitment of the United States”.
US President Donald Trump took NATO partners by surprise last month by withdrawing troops from northern Syria.
He also wrong-footed them by announcing a troop draw-down in Afghanistan, before declaring peace talks with the Taliban had collapsed after a bomb attack killed a US soldier.
Angela Merkel hit back at the comments on NATO from Emmanuel Macron
Mr Trump has also continued to lash out at other leaders and at a summit in May 2017, berated them for failing to boost their military budgets.
But Mr Macron has retaliated, and said the European members of NATO “should reassess the reality of what Nato is in the light of the commitment of the United States”.
The French President also urged the EU to start thinking of itself more as a “geopolitical power” to ensure it remained “in control” of its destiny.
But the comments from Mr Macron have infuriated EU figureheads, including Angela Merkel.
Speaking in Berlin alongside alongside the visiting Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, she said Mr Macron “used drastic words – that is not my view of co-operation in Nato”.
The German Chancellor acknowledged there were problems, but said she did not think “such sweeping judgements are necessary”.
She added: ”Nato remains a cornerstone of our security.”