After Scholz in China, watch out for Macron in America


When it comes to transatlantic symbols, Emmanuel Macron’s upcoming visit to Washington DC will hopefully have a more positive aura than the recent phone call between Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The two leaders discussed Scholz’s recent widely criticized trip to China and expressed a “shared” commitment to maintaining the rules-based international order. Both discussed Taiwan, human rights and Ukraine with Xi Jinping.

But diplomatic niceties cannot mask the chasm between the US establishment’s view that China is its biggest competitor and Berlin’s interests in maintaining a top-tier trade relationship. It is one of many cracks seeping into a US-EU relationship that is trying to put the Trump era behind it – with observers saying there is a risk of a collision.

Europe is no longer usefully considered by the White House as an “enemy” that takes advantage of American security, taking advantage of exceptional exports with an undervalued euro and entrusting energy supplies to Russia. The two allies are on the same geopolitical page regarding the invasion of Ukraine, with Germany now willing to spend on defense and less on Russian gas.

Yet, at the same time, the United States considers that the EU is not doing enough: it is not sending enough military or financial support to Kyiv and is not strong enough to counter China, as the implies the Scholz-Biden call. The EU’s vision of Beijing as a partner, competitor and rival is too hazy for Washington. “On China, Europe is not there,” says former Obama aide Benjamin Rhodes.

In Europe, resentment is mounting over the widening economic disparity with the United States. The euro zone’s trade surplus is now in deficit as expensive energy imports impoverish European consumers while enriching US exporters. Purchases of durable goods (cars, washing machines) in the United States are up 24% since December 2019, but have fallen 6.7% in France, according to strategist Nicolas Goetzmann. The new US protectionist subsidies for electric vehicles are putting salt in the wounds of European manufacturers.

There is an opening here for Macron, who himself is at odds with Scholz on several issues, to urgently seize the opportunity to improve transatlantic relations when he meets Biden on December 1. Significantly and symbolically, Macron will be the first of the American president. state visitor.

One of the challenges is to demonstrate to the United States why France and Europe should be cultivated as partners rather than dismissed as irrelevant. Macron will have in mind the humiliating episode of AUKUS, which saw an Australian deal to buy French submarines scrapped in favor of an alliance with the UK and US.

In addition to pledging more support for Kyiv, France is expected to seek common ground with Biden regarding the Indo-Pacific and China. France is the only European power present in the region, according to Camille Grand of the ECFR, with around 7,000 soldiers and 1.5 million citizens. Its strategy already seeks to complement that of the United States, even though it presents itself as a “balancing power”. Macron said in September that France wanted to counter the risk of regional “hegemony” through cooperation with India and Australia.

Although not entirely aligned with the United States, France can at least position itself closer to Washington than to Berlin. China is France’s fifth-largest trading partner, with total trade of about $87.3 billion, but Germany’s second-largest partner, with total trade of about $236 billion. When Macron met Xi on the sidelines of the G20, he was more in tune with Biden’s position than Scholz’s. Paris has “a card to play” as European allies jostle for influence, says Jeremie Gallon of McLarty Associates.

In return, Macron is also expected to push for increased US support for the European economy, whose dire prospects have not been sufficiently appreciated in the United States. If Washington is serious about spreading the gospel of “support from friends” among NATO allies and partners, it should find a compromise to defuse the problem of electric vehicle subsidies.

And in a throwback to Obama’s pressure on Angela Merkel during the Eurozone crisis, the US could also see the benefit of approving a boost to growth in Europe via more investment and borrowing. spouses, which Berlin resists. France’s energy aid policies have underscored that inflation in the eurozone is fueled by war and energy rather than the overheating seen in the United States. More, not less, you have to spend.

A visit will not be a panacea. Levels of trust between France and the United States have been clouded by ambiguity around Paris’s push for a European or French-led defense. While Macron leads the EU’s only nuclear power and most credible military, he has also ruffled feathers by failing to lead military assistance to Ukraine and throwing barbs on target of NATO. He is “not the most popular among Eastern Europeans, or even among Southern Europeans”, write Ilke Toygur and Max Bergmann of the CSIS think tank.

But the symbolism and rhetoric of a Franco-American meeting in Washington DC – itself designed by a French architect – will be a good start. The Macron administration must ease the Franco-German impasse and the pain of the energy crisis. And, as former Ambassador Pierre Vimont points out, the Biden administration needs allies like Europe to advance its global agenda. Is it worth it.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering digital currencies, the European Union and France. Previously, he was a reporter for Reuters and Forbes.

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