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Westphalia Peace Prize Awarded to Macron

The “Peace of Westphalia” has recently been awarded to Emmanuel Macron. The prize is normally awarded every two years, but this was the first award since 2020. Macron was supposed to receive the prize last year but it was delayed because of other commitments. I’m not sure why there was no award in 2022 (I doubt it was related to Covid, since the 2020 prize was awarded at the height of the pandemic).

The prize is funded by a private consortium. It has been given since 1998 — the 350th anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia — for “commitment to sustainable peace and international understanding.” Previous recipients have included Vaclav Havel, Helmut Kohl, and Kofi Annan.

Macron accepted the prize while on a 3-day state visit to Germany. While in Germany, he spoke about the need to support Ukraine against Russian aggression. Macron was selected because of his strong support for the European Union, following the footsteps of another French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who received the prize in 2006. In his speech granting Macron the prize, German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Macron a “passionate European.” During the same trip, Macron spoke of the need for the European Union to develope a common defense. Indeed, he called for a “strong and sovereign Europe.”

The reference to sovereignty is poignant for those who study the Peace of Westphalia, which is commonly (but mistakenly) thought to have originated the idea of state sovereignty in international affairs. Macron was using it in a new way, however: normally, sovereignty is applied to nation-states, but Macron was changing the locus of sovereignty to the European Union. This also has some relevance to the Peace of Westphalia, because one of the signatories of that treaty, the Holy Roman Empire, can be conceived of as a union of independent states. The Empire struggled with its own sovereignty, ultimately being dissolved 150 years later after Napoleon’s conquests had disrupted ancien régime Europe.

By emphasizing sovereignty, Macron is apparently calling for more power for the Union government. However, this language has not caught up to most people’s understanding of sovereignty, which is still rooted in the nation-state. In recent polls, most people in France associate sovereignty with ideas like nationalism and independence — the opposite of the direction Macron in which Macron wants to move. Given the victory of right-wing parties in last week’s European elections, the Union seems to be headed in a more decentralized direction. Of course, it is too early to be sure, but it is ironic that Macron’s support for the “European idea” is coming at precisely the time that popular support is moving toward national independence.

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