Why tensions persist between Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron, despite their warm body language
As usual for such a rally, the ongoing G7 summit in Cornwall is taking place mostly behind closed doors, away from the cameras. It may therefore be tempting for commentators to extrapolate the observations from the lens of photo calls and executive walks. Yesterday, both during the official welcome on Carbis Bay beach in Cornwall and an aperitif including the British Royal Family at the Eden Project eco-park, many were struck by the warm body language between Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden.
Photographed and filmed with their arms behind their backs and in the middle of a conversation, the body language of the two Presidents seemed to invite speculation that with the relationship with Britain complicated by Brexit (Biden used the G7 to call for a resolution in the conflict over Northern Ireland) and with Angela Merkel about to leave the scene, the new loop in the transatlantic relationship is the Washington-Paris alliance.
And yet appearances can be deceptive. A White House spokesman reportedly said the two men discussed “Covid-19 and efforts to combat terrorism in the Sahel” yesterday; they are also having a formal meeting today. But a clue to the broader agenda of Biden and Macron’s seemingly friendly talks can be found in a press conference the French president gave in Paris on Thursday, June 10, before traveling to the UK. It is worth taking a closer look at the comments he made then as context for the meetings in Cornwall this weekend.
While much of Macron’s wide range address on what he called “effective multilateralism” involved welcoming the return of a US administration committed to international order, its allies and the fight against climate change, he also warned that the tensions exposed by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, would not go away.
The heart of his argument was that France and the EU should assume greater independence from the United States. And although Macron hailed the return of the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, he also said that while Europeans had “historically delegated accounting standards to the Anglo-Saxon world”, they now had to take responsibility. of the creation of “moral standards for our capitalism, be it environmental or social”.
Here, Macron alluded to a reasoning he has long had proclaimed: that the economic and political model of Europe, distinct from both the American free market and Chinese authoritarian capitalism, should be the basis of a foreign policy pushed by the EU to reshape the international order. His quasi-Gaullist reference to the “Anglo-Saxons” suggests a difference in civilization between not only the EU and the United States, but also the EU and the United Kingdom.
This argument was developed in a section on Internet governance. Speaking of his desire to avoid a “fragmentation of the global internet”, Macron spoke of avoiding a situation where Europe sees “imposing de facto regulations on us which are structured around Chinese preferences on the one hand, and American preferences on the other hand. ”. This sentence alludes again to his conviction that the EU should not simply choose one side or the other, but become an international actor in its own right.
More brutally, ahead of a NATO summit to be held next week, Macron warned the US administration that the EU must be granted “independence with regard to our strategy towards China” . Macron’s suggestion that the EU cannot be expected to automatically side with America to some extent undermines Biden’s ambitions to rally democracies to counter the rise of China. Indeed, he argued against the “return to [the logic] of the Cold War ”, adding that“ Europe is not simply an object or a territory for the distribution of influences. We are a subject of international geopolitics and we must assert ourselves as such.
There are of course many reasons to be skeptical of the address. Macron likes grand civilizational statements about the uniqueness of Europe that don’t always translate into concrete political changes. Of all the G7 member states, he leads the most able to assert his independence from the United States, being both a full-fledged nuclear power (like only the United Kingdom) and confident in his ability. to deviate from the United States (unlike the United Kingdom).
Other G7 member states such as Germany and Japan would hesitate to be so blunt in claiming that their alliance with the United States can no longer be taken for granted, let alone several EU members. Countries like Poland and the Baltic states see no alternative to the transatlantic alliance to secure their sovereignty and are likely to take a dim view of Macron’s statements. Developing “strategic autonomy” from the United States, according to Macron, would require overcoming deep foreign policy divisions between member states, a handful of which are also seen as pro-China and pro-Russia.
Still, Macron’s speech is useful in gauging sentiment about the future of the transatlantic relationship after Trump. His call for the EU to build a “new partnership” with the US implies clear alignment but also, as Jeremy Cliffe argued earlier this week, a distance on some issues. He said the new relationship should be “a partnership of values, an alliance on some issues, but a lucid partnership where we say it’s up to us to manage our neighborhood.”
In other words, Macron believes that Europeans have matured enough to stop believing that they can simply return to the same close alignment with America, even if the two blocs again share many of the same values, including commitments to liberal democracy, international order and the fight against climate change. “The same household, but separate rooms”, according to the newspaper The world the dish in writing the speech.
The G7 summit is Macron’s first face-to-face meeting with Biden since the latter became president. It may well be that the two get along well personally. But commentators should be careful not to assume that, just because they do, the foreign policies of their two countries necessarily converge. Judging by Macron’s remarks in Paris on Thursday, they may well have to do the opposite.
[See also: Europe and America are diverging, but that does not mean the end of the transatlantic alliance]