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The European project of Napoleon

Lentz Thierry

   Napoleon was sometimes so vague about his intentions for Europe that the project is difficult to decipher. This paper is an attempt to disentangle the twisted threads, an attempt which can only be undertaken taking into account the geopolitics and the «hidden forces» in European diplomacy, some of which had a venerable history. It is true that Napoleon was an original in terms of the history of European politics, but he also acted within the traditions and perennial ambitions of French foreign policy, at least since Louis XIV. With this in mind, it is not surprising that he should find in Britain a constant enemy: London wanted a Europe of middling powers, divided against each other – British diplomats gave this the fine title of «European equilibrium». With this in mind, to believe that the struggle between the Napoleonic Empire and the other European powers was the equivalent of a Manichean struggle between good and bad is a simplification, worse still, a denial of the complexities of international relations. Napoleon’s European ‘system’, roughly speaking, was made up of three concentric circles: the French Empire (Ancienrégime France and the annexed departments), the Napoleonic kingdoms governed by the Emperor’s brothers, and finally a main alliance, a subject about which Napoleon showed himself hesitant and changeable: Spain (1799-1808), then Russia (1807-1811/12) and finally Austria (after the marriage to Marie-Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine). The whole thing was set against a backdrop of French economic dominance and occasionally brutal diplomacy which worried little about the necessity of offering to allies the tandem of pros and cons. We need look no further for reasons for the great and final coalition of 1813… something which makes it possible to note in passing that, up to that point, Napoleon’s presence at the centre of the system was not fundamentally a problem for any of the actors in the European «Great Game».

Keywords: history of international relations, Europe, Napoleon.
Link: Lentz T. The European project of Napoleon // Annuaire d'études françaises 2013. Т. 45: "La campagne russe" de Napoléon : événements, images, mémoire / Annual of French Studies 2013, The Russian campaign of Napoleon : events, images, memory.М. P. 18-32.