EU / FRANCE (OBSERVATORY) – Emmanuel Macron stated his presence on the world stage last May, seizing Donald Trump by the hand and not letting go of him.
The youngest president of France was in office for 11 days, when they met at the NATO summit in Brussels. Trump is known for trying to aggressively dominate other politicians, but Macron mixed all the cards, grabbing his hand and squeezing it, despite the fact that Trump tried to pull away. Then Macron spoke French, although he speaks fluent English. Trump, without the headphones for translation, sincerely nodded. Everything was clear: Macron was not one to be dominated by.
And his strategy seems to have worked. A senior official at the presidential palace said that Macron and Trump had established a lasting relationship. Officials of the US administration note that the French president became an influential figure for Trump on Iran, Syria and trade. The French official says that, despite their differences in character, both are political outsiders who lack the patience to establish diplomatic contact.
Trump presented Macron with the opportunity, which will be the first official state visit during his presidency, scheduled for April 23-25. Macron arrived in Washington, having a better reputation with Trump than his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited the White House on April 27, arriving on a visit for only one day.
The air strikes against Syria became the diplomatic victory of Macron, who supported the idea of a military response to the alleged attack on civilians using chemical weapons, confirming his position as one of Trump’s most reliable foreign colleagues. Germany received a rebuke from future Ambassador Trump in the country – Richard Grenelle – for refusing to join the coalition.
If Macron can prevent Trump from unleashing a “trade war”, he will earn political capital, which he can then apply, because he has two huge ambitions: reforming France that resisted change for 30 years and canceling the relative fall of Europe. Its goal is to restore not only the economic strength of the continent, but also the idea that the EU can be a single superpower.
This premise has been tested for the past several years, first as a result of the sovereign debt crisis, then the influx of refugees fleeing the war and terrorism in the Middle East, and finally the referendum on the Brexit issue in 2016. The compromises necessary to solve these problems have now been exhausted, most European leaders now seek to retain their sovereign powers, rather than accept the Macron plan for a federation.
“Now the fate of Europe is being decided, I must pursue these ambitions in the name of France, which is why I am carrying out all these reforms and all these transformations,” said Macron.
Realizing their dreams about Europe, Macron has to work a lot inside the country. In France, so far, high unemployment, the second largest tax burden in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an outdated production base and continuous public movements. The development of the economy helped to reduce taxes for investors, but now it faces the first big obstacles, realizing its 10-year plan for the transformation of France and Europe (yes, it seems, he is betting for a second term).
In April, employees of the state railway company closed most of the train network and planned weekly stops until June, as they are struggling with his plans to reform the enterprise. Students protest against the reduction of their rights, pilots and crews of Air France challenge the wage system.
The poll, published by France’s most popular news channel, showed that 74% of respondents believe that Macro’s policy is “unfair,” and 77% say that it splits the French society. In early April, his approval rating dropped to about 40%, after accounting for 47%. Nevertheless, Macron does not stop this.
“I want to change the situation, and I will not give up,” he told French television this month. He will go “to the end.”
A stronger France would help Macron to challenge Merkel’s position on Europe as an alliance of countries and convince her that it could become a more integrated economic superpower. He sees a sovereign entity – the United States of Europe in everything but the name – that can match the US in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship and apply its influence to protect industry and workers. Europe Macron would establish the norms of labor protection and environmental protection for the whole block. This would force technology giants to pay their share of taxes and ensure compliance with external borders to control the flow of refugees and immigrants.
His EU colleagues are not very happy about the idea of making Europe great again, at least if it means keeping pace with the resurgent France and its president. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte openly challenges him, leading a group of eight northern countries that insist that member states perform their work aimed at strengthening the bloc rather than looking for new risks. 37-year-old German health minister Jens Span, part of a new generation of German leaders eager to repeat Merkel’s success, said in March that the EU should “become real” and forget about “high-flown speeches” and “utopian visions” of grandiose projects.
Macron begins to understand that Merkel will never support his boldest plans. In fact, high-ranking officials from the French government suspect that his rhetoric begins to irritate her. As the deadline in June for the Franco-German plan approaches, allowing banks to compete across Europe, Macron is trying to get Merkel’s support of a general deposit insurance system. And his talk about European economic sovereignty is of concern to German industrialists, who represent how foreigners protect their export interests.
Merkel, which won last year, faced domestic protests over the ECB’s decision to allow inflation to accelerate in order to stimulate growth in the rest of the euro area.
The arrogance of Macron does not save. In March, he was almost an hour late for a meeting with Merkel in Paris, spending most of the day in the south of France, participating in a photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz. A few days later, Rutte drove Macron around his office in The Hague, while the French leader looked clearly disinterested, twice stopping Rutte’s explanations. De Telegraaf’s edition explained that this was a “strong” insult.
“I’m not arrogant, I’m determined,” explained Macron to the German weekly Der Spiegel in October.
It sounds unconvincing, considering that Macron celebrated his election last year, not by the French national anthem, but by the European one. And, we will remind, he uttered his speech after the victory in the Louvre palace of Napoleon. Macron accepted world leaders and corporate titans at the Palace of Versailles, which led to a parallel with the “sun king” Louis XIV, who ruled in the XVII century. “If you are French, there will always be those who consider you arrogant, but being ambitious does not mean being arrogant,” said Jean Writing-Ferry, Professor of Sciences Po in Paris and Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
One factor restraining the ego of Macron is his 65-year-old wife and former teacher of Brigitte High School. When the irritation of the president, who was under the constant attention of the press, threatened to overflow during a visit to the Beijing Art Gallery in January, the first lady put a hand on his shoulder. She suggested first to enjoy the exhibition, and then to talk with journalists. Macron smiled and obeyed.
Macron’s trip to Washington is a reminder to his critics that he is now becoming the most effective European leader on the world stage. He already has supporters in the US business community. In January, MacRaugh hosted the chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Lloyd Blankfein in Versailles. Speaking at a briefing in March, Blankfein said: “Now the most important leader in Europe is Macron.It has the potential for serious business with him.”