It took a long time for the American President to invite the first foreign guest to an official state visit. Now, almost two years after Joe Biden took office, that honor goes to Emmanuel Macron, President of America oldest ally, as they like to say in the US. Because of Corona, foreign heads of state and government had only come to Washington for work visits. “It is an important sign for France that Macron is invited as the first European head of state,” says Martin Quencez from the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund. Macron traveled to Washington this Wednesday.
Macron’s visit comes at a time when Europe is struggling to find the right way to deal with the United States, especially the right way to deal with the “Inflation Reduction Act” that the US Congress passed in the summer. The legislative package provides a lot of money to support companies in climate protection – but mainly for those who produce in the USA. Critics warn of a distortion of competition and fear that European companies could migrate as a result. The “Inflation Reduction Act” has a direct impact on European industry, it was said before the visit from the Elysée Palace. Macron will seek talks with Biden and draw conclusions for the Europeans. It is unlikely that Macron’s visit will bring concrete results – a common European position would first be needed for that.
France wants to close the European market, Scholz wants to open it
If the French President has his way, Europe should react to the American law with a “Buy European Act”. Europe was too naive, like the USA, for example, subsidies for electric cars should be given to European companies, Macron said in a recent television interview. “China protects its industry, the US protects its industry, and Europe is an open house.” French Economics Minister Bruno Le Maire last week called for Europe to defend its interests.
In the rest of Europe, especially in Germany, the French plans are not so well received. Instead of more protectionism, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) campaigned last week for a free trade agreement with the USA. That is “always better than a bidding war on subsidies and protective tariffs, as some see coming as a result of the American Inflation Reduction Act,” he said at the economic summit Süddeutsche Zeitung. During their visits to Paris last week, neither Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) nor Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) spoke out in favor of a “Buy European Act” like the one demanded by France.
Even if there is a need for clarification in the area of economic policy, Paris is trying to show how much it appreciates the invitation from Washington. The state visit is a rare and special form of recognition, the Elysée Palace said.
In Paris, people complain that the US still too often acts unilaterally
Last year, the relationship between the two governments was extremely tense. The trigger was the security alliance Aukus, which the USA had negotiated with Australia and Great Britain. As a result, Australia did not buy submarines in France, as agreed, but in the USA. One of the fiercest conflicts since the Iraq war then broke out between the two countries.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused the United States of being “punched in the back” and ordered the French ambassador back to Paris from Washington. Among allied states, this is the sharpest type of protest. In the meantime, relations have relaxed somewhat. Biden acknowledged that the submarine affair was “clumsy”. US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Paris to appease.
“The invitation to the state visit is also an attempt to open a new chapter,” says Martin Quencez from the German Marshall Fund. But he also says: “Since the end of the Trump administration, cooperation has not progressed as far as the French would like.” In France, the impression still prevails that the USA thinks and acts unilaterally when it comes to inflation, climate protection, but also towards China.
USA would like more weapons for Ukrainians from France
The war in Ukraine should also be a big topic during Macron’s visit. As for the broad lines, Macron and Biden are largely in agreement. Both support sanctions and arms deliveries. Nonetheless, disagreements do arise from time to time. When Biden said about Russian President Vladimir Putin in the spring that the man should not remain in power, Macron warned of an “escalation through words and deeds”. Conversely, according to the US, France could make more arms available to Ukraine than it has been to date.
The French government is keeping a low profile on how much and what kind of military aid it is giving to Ukraine. In October, Macron announced that it would add to the 18 that had been delivered so far Caesar-Guns to send six additional to Ukraine. According to that Kiel Institute for the World Economy the military support promised by France is around 0.3 billion euros and thus far below what Poland or Great Britain, for example, are delivering.