Macron crowned king of Europe in Washington D.C.; just a working meeting with Trump for Merkel

From the arrival ceremony of the President of France and Mrs. Macron, for a state visit to the White House, Washington D.C. 24/4/2018. Snapshot from a video. US Government work.

A rare service Donald Trump is currently doing for the Europeans is that he offers them a platform for important common action to be undertaken by the French President Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They are both visiting the White House this week, but expect quite different reception from Trump; pompous state visit for Macron, but just working meeting for Merkel.

In any case, the two European leaders are painstakingly trying to convince the ‘America first’ President to endorse the nuclear deal with Iran. By the same token, Germany and France have a strong common interest to convince Trump to abandon his protectionist anti free trade policy and rhetoric. During the next few weeks or even days it will become clear if they succeeded. Let’s take one thing at a time.

A French preponderance

For the free trade issue however, Germany has much more at stake than France. As a result, is rather unclear if Macron will be equally pressing the Americans as Angela Merkel is expected to do, when they successively meet Trump in the White House. France has never been targeted by Trump as an aggressive exporter ‘stealing’ jobs from Americans. On the contrary, Germany is a standard target of the White House, when it comes to foreign trade.

Actually, Trump has threatened the imports of German cars in the US with additional tariffs. He blames Europe for the woes of the American automotive industry and also for applying non-tariff barriers to the sales of US cars in the EU.

A rare honor for Macron

This week, both the French President and the German Chancellor are visiting the US, to meet Trump in the White House. Macron’s visit is scheduled to last for three days, while Merkel will be received in the White House only for a few hours. There would also be a striking difference in the White House etiquette, in successively receiving the two European leaders during the short interval of less than one week. Macron and his wife are welcomed with great honors. On Tuesday, the French Presidential couple was greeted with rare ceremonial parades.

It’s the first full protocol ‘state visit’ of a foreign leader during Trump’s tenancy of the White House, gorgeously choreographed in honor of Macron. No other leader is so far given this honor by the current US administration. As for Angela Merkel, her visit is designed to comprise nothing more than a few hours working meeting with Trump, with whom the German Chancellor has a difficult relation. On the contrary, Macron and Trump have developed a very good chemistry.

What do Paris and Berlin want?

Not to forget, Paris was a solid ally of Washington at the latest missile attack against Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. On that occasion, Berlin adopted a stance of more or less neutrality, not wanting to enrage Vladimir Putin, the basic supporter of Assad’s regime in war torn Syria. In reality, this Syrian affair has left Germany sitting on the fence not knowing where to stand, squinting to both sides.

The differences between France and Germany in their viewing of the world are quite important. Berlin has much stronger ties with Moscow than Paris, while France is definitely attached to the US. Germany depends to an important degree on Russian natural gas to keep her running. Moscow and Berlin are keen to build a second gas pipeline supplying Germany with Russian natural gas, a twin of the first Nord Stream Line I. The approval of Denmark for this last project is needed, because the pipeline passes through Danish territorial waters. The issue is currently confusing the tiny country, because Britain and the US are pressing Copenhagen to bar Nord Stream Line II, while the German neighbor badly needs it.

Paris and Berlin

No doubt that Berlin and Paris are in strategically different lines. France is an Atlantic and Mediterranean power with strong interests in Africa and the Middle East. Germany being practically cut off from these regions of the world has turned eastwards towards Russia. Of course, Germany is inseparably attached to the Western world, but still has to look eastwards since the other options are obviously blocked. Up to now, Germany didn’t so badly need an eastwards opening. Until a few months ago, the prevailing full liberties in international trade had offered Germany the perfect opportunity to thrive, and she took full advantage.

Unfortunately, free trade and unimpeded exports seem to be now under fire from the American protectionist practices and rhetoric, which directly threaten Germany’s welfare, heavily depending on foreign sales. Add to that the possible German losses from Brexit and the inbuilt problems of Eurozone, and Berlin must feel obliged to keep now more than ever the eastern openings available.

A segregated world

In our increasingly segregated world though between West and Russia, it becomes everyday more difficult for any country to keep both options wide open. However, since the Russian option doesn’t fully suit Germany, Berlin will be obliged in the end to pay its dues to keep the westward highways wide open.

Tomorrow Friday, Merkel is to be received in the White House. The last time the German Chancellor was there, she was disturbed to hear Donald Trump asking her country to pay NATO and the US hundreds of billions of dollars in arrears. If the US administration now prepares a similar reception for Merkel, we will learn how expensive it will be for Berlin to continue having the westwards option available.

 

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