PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron is jumping from one diplomatic meeting to the next, but there’s one place he’s not going: the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Macron is not alone. Other heavyweights are also not showing up at the world festival of diplomats.
In addition to the absences of China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Rishi Sunak and India’s Narendra Modi will also be absent from the gathering in New York next week.
All of them have various and different reasons for not attending the meeting which brings together heads of state and government from around the world. The likely result is that US President Joe Biden and his speech will likely get even more attention than in previous years.
While Putin and Xi frequently miss the gathering, the absences of Sunak and Macron have raised eyebrows. The UK and France both hold permanent seats on the UN Security Council, meaning only one leader from the five countries with permanent seats will attend the meeting.
According to several French officials, Macron has scheduling conflicts because he will host King Charles III, for a visit that has already been postponed once before due to unrest in France. Keir Starmer, leader of the Labor Party in the United Kingdom, also plans to meet Macron in Paris next week. The French president will also welcome Pope Francis to the port city of Marseille next weekend.
Elysée officials made no comment on this story.
Sunak’s absence is all the more surprising as this would be his first General Assembly since taking office last October. That said, Sunak and his Conservative Party have recently been beaten in the polls, suggesting future electoral problems and an increased focus on the country.
The New York meeting also follows the G20 summit in India, which issued a statement supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity but did not include a direct condemnation of Russia.
“Macron has just attended the G20 summit. He will have done a lot of foreign policy, so it is a question of balance and time,” said a French minister, who benefited from anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject candidly.
“The other objective of the UNGA is to make a big speech, (but) there has been no overhaul of French foreign policy so there is no need to make one every year,” he said. added the minister.
The French president also has his own diplomatic initiatives that he wants to bring to life, such as his New Global Financial Compact for which he hopes to garner support.
In France, there is concern, even within Macron’s ranks, that the president’s absence will send a negative signal to the world given France’s stated support for multilateralism and the president’s enthusiasm for diplomacy. Anne Genetet, a member of parliament for Macron’s Renaissance party, said she was “very surprised” to learn that he would not participate.
“It will be a loss for us… I am convinced that going to the UNGA is useful, there are the big speeches and the diplomatic conversations which are really intense. It is essential to understand and convince others,” she said.
Macron has only skipped the UNGA once before, following the US decision to enter into a security alliance with Australia and the UK.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will also attend this year’s General Assembly, hoping to garner support beyond his Western allies for his 10-point peace plan, an initiative that Paris has vigorously supported. According to a senior French diplomat, the president’s absence does not undermine this support. “It is not because the president does not leave that French diplomacy stops,” he declared.
However, the move could suggest changes in how France sees the world and where it should invest its diplomatic energy.
“The UN is running out of steam, losing visibility, who knows today who is the Secretary General of the UN? asked a former French official, who, like others cited here, was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject, noting a “shift in the world’s center of gravity” toward the east and south.
This summer, Macron tried to obtain an invitation to the BRICS summit in South Africa and in recent years, France has increasingly invested in Asian forums like APEC or ASEAN.
Nahal Toosi, Paul de Villepin, Sarah Paillou contributed to the report.