Ukraine, China, and technology. Those are the three points of Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Washington, where this Wednesday he was received at the White House by Joe Biden, with whom he will meet this Thursday. It is a meeting of the highest level. In fact, this is the first state visit for the current US president . A state visit is a meeting at the highest level in the White House, which includes all ceremonial paraphernalia designed to convey the idea that between the two countries there is, more than good relations, a true alliance.
But it does not seem that Macron’s choice is a coincidence, despite the fact that he and Biden have good personal chemistry that has led them, at the United Nations General Assembly in September, to extend a meeting to 45 minutes. n that was expected to last just ten, to the despair of their respective teams, who saw how the agendas of both leaders were blown up simply because of the good vibes between them (given the attention given by Biden to Pedro Sanchez at the summit of NATO in 2021, it seems unlikely that this organizational problem would occur in an eventual meeting between the Spanish and American presidents). Good chemistry is so important – with Macron even sending a handwritten note to Biden for his 80th birthday and his granddaughter’s wedding – that nothing important will come of this summit. Nothing except the scenic representation. And that is relevant.
Because if Biden has given Macron the honor of a state visit, it is because the United States considers France the leader of Europe. It is a geopolitical tectonic movement, which is not only due to the personality of the French president, but also to the perception that Washington has of the Old Continent. Great Britain has marginalized itself by leaving the European Union and, until the Second Coming of Queen Victoria expected by Brexiteers, which allows the restoration of the British Empire, London It will have to assume that its capacity for influence in the US, although great, is not what it was.
And then there’s Germany, a country with a far larger economic role than its political one , but one that has seen its stature dwindle with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s constant vacillation and steps back and forth in the Ukrainian war. If with Angela Merkel Jake Sullivan – Biden’s influential National Security adviser – feared that Berlin would slide down the slope of mercantilism, and try to renounce the strategic responsibilities of the world’s fourth largest economy to try to be a kind of Luxembourg but in a big way, with Scholz it seems that Germany is simply lost.
Add to this that Secretary of State Antony Blinken grew up in France, with a French adoptive father, speaks Moliere’s language as well as Shakespeare’s, and it’s not like he only has the Legi Not only of Honor, but also given to her mother, and the romance between Washington and Paris is guaranteed. A romance that Macron undoubtedly hopes will end better than the one he began with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, with whom he also had the first state visit of the mandate.of the American president. Macron landed in Washington in 2017. He and Trump even planted a tree at the White House, in a ceremony that made it clear that forestry was not their thing, to celebrate the friendship between the two nations. And a day after he left, Trump tore up the nuclear deal with Iran, which the French president had pleaded with him during his visit to uphold.
This time, nothing like that will happen. In fact, Biden already gave France the usual slap in the face in advance, in September 2021, when he established the AUKUS, a nuclear alliance with Great Britain and Australia that meant the loss of an 80,000 million contract for France euros in submarinesfor the country of Oceania, which will go from being built by a French company to an American one. Macron reacted in the best French style: with a fit of indignation, perhaps because US diplomacy decided to make it public just on the day a ceremony was scheduled to commemorate the alliance between the Navies of France and the US (that is what is called having good diplomatic sense). But, after withdrawing the French ambassador in Washington, Macron decided to forget the incident, among other things because there was not much else he could do. Grandeur, in French, sounds good, but power in English defeats it by far.
Which leads to the meeting on Thursday – with Biden – in which there will be three main topics. In two of them, although the US and France are on the same wavelength, they do not agree on everything. Or, as one US diplomat put it this week, “we are allies, but we are not aligned.”. The most obvious is Ukraine. France has provided large-scale military and economic support to the kyiv government, including CESAR howitzers, which have decimated Russian troops on the eastern and southern front lines. But Macron continues trying to maintain an open communication channel with Vladimir Putin, something that many in Washington believe is, more than anything else, because of the characteristic that the French president has the most. s: pride. Nobody in the US believes that Putin will listen to Macron, but the general opinion is that, with his efforts to get closer to the Russian dictator, the French president allows Moscow to maintain his narrative of a “negotiated solution” to the conflict. that Russia itself initiated.
For the Biden government, negotiations with Russia make no sense, since Moscow only proposes them when the war is going badly for it, and it combines these opening offers with the systematic bombing of all Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. Sullivan has cut short the proposal by the US chief of staff, Mark Milley, to consider a diplomatic solution to the conflict, and Biden declared just three weeks ago that the only ones who are going to decide whether to negotiate with the Russians They are the Ukrainians. Washington, in fact, is preparing to continue sending massive military aid to Ukraine until at least the summer of 2023. By then, the US hopes that Moscow will have launched a major spring offensive., after a winter in which “land and air operations are going to be complicated, due to mud in the first case and bad weather in the second,” according to the spokesman for the Council of Homeland Security, John Kirby, in a telephone press conference this Wednesday.
The second item of debate is China . There, both Biden and Macron will be able to compare notes, since both met with the president of that country, Xi Jinping, at the recent G-20 summit in Bali, just two weeks ago. Again, as in the Ukraine, the coincidence of general objectives does not occur when going into the details. France promotes a more flexible policy towards China , something that the US, thrown at a policy of containment of Beijing reminiscent of that applied during the Cold War with Moscow, opposes in round.
But the biggest fight is the one that attracts the fewest headlines. And it is summed up in one acronym: IRA. In other words, the Inflation Reduction Law, but in English. Approved in September after a year of debate in the Senate, it is one of Biden’s star initiatives, since it provides 370,000 million dollars (358,600 million euros) for the ecological transition in the US.
And well, what does a law have that aligns, in theory, the US policy against climate change with the European one?
The answer in two words: ” Buy American . ” In other words, “buy American.” The law provides huge tax incentives and subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles and clean energy equipment made in the United States. In other words: the Europeans, who are leaders in these industries, will have to build factories on the other side of the Atlantic instead of exporting their equipment from Europe , if they want it to have a competitive price.
Both measures have angered France and Germany, two countries that are undergoing an energy transition within which the motor sector stands out. And, if there is any industry that has political weight in Germany, it is that of the manufacture of cars. So the idea that electric car batteries have to be made in the US instead of Germany or France has not sat well with Macron and Scholz. Above all, because French and German companies are taking US promises very seriously: 35% of German companies that manufacture components for electric cars are considering investing in the United States, compared to only 32%. , who plan to do it in their country of origin. Biden’s measures thus have a very real effect.
And France is, of course, the one who has had it worse. French Finance Minister Bruno LeMarie has accused the United States of practicing “a Chinese industrial policy.” That’s exactly the kind of insult that doesn’t make friends in Washington. And not in Berlin either. Although Scholz supports the French position, he does not want a transatlantic trade war over energy transition subsidies. The reason, foreseeable in the always cautious German chancellor, is, once again, Ukraine.
Even so, it does not seem that one can speak, at least for the moment, of a common Franco-German front against the United States in this field. Unlike. After joining the French theses, the government of Olaf Scholz has turned and left Emmanuel Macron alone. The reason for this change is precisely the war in Ukraine. According to Berlin, with Europe plunged into its worst war conflict since World War II, and more dependent on US military aid than ever in the last three decades, seek a worsening of tensions transatlantic trade is an act of irresponsibility.
Still, Macron and his team are going to raise their grievances with Biden in Washington. And they are going to link them to strategic competition with China. According to Paris, if the United States weakens European technology companies, it is facilitating the expansion of Chinese ones. It is an argument that Biden probably does not buy, in part because the big companies of Silicon Valley believe that they are being treated unfairly by Brussels, which with its investigations of companies like Apple, Meta (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) and Alphabet (Google) for its alleged practices opposed to free competition, is opening the doors of the market of the old continent to companies like TikTok of the Chinese state company ByteDance. Silicon Valley’s power in Washington, moreover, has risen a lot this month,
On the other hand, the idea, launched by France, that the United States give European companies a treatment similar to that received by Mexican Canadians, seems to have very limited support in Washington, where it is recalled that both M Both Mexico and Canada are part of the North American free trade agreement, which also includes the United States. Between the US and the EU, however, there is nothing like it.
So the fight for technological primacy in the 21st century can become the great fault line of the political romance , between Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron. It is very probable that the summit leaves everything for, literally, next Monday. Because that day a new meeting of the US-EU Technological and Commercial Council established in 2021 is held, with the aim of coordinating transatlantic technology policy to, precisely, face competition from China. There he will continue the negotiation again.
Still, Macron and his team are going to raise their grievances with Biden in Washington. And they are going to link them to strategic competition with China. According to Paris, if the United States weakens European technology companies, it is facilitating the expansion of Chinese ones. It’s an argument Biden probably won’t buy, in part because big Silicon Valley companies believe they’re being treated unfairly by Brussels, with its investigations of companies like Apple, Meta (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) and Alphabet. (Google) for its alleged practices opposed to free competition and, above all, for the DMA (Digital Markets Law), which has not yet entered into force but will be a blow to technology companies americans.
Since the EU does not have a single player in the world’s leading technological division, the US fears that in exchange for attacking its companies, Brussels is opening the doors of the old continent market to companies like TikTok of the Chinese state-owned company ByteDance. Silicon Valley’s power in Washington, moreover, has risen sharply this month, after Democrats managed to retain control of the Senate.
On the other hand, the idea, launched by France, that the United States give European companies a treatment similar to that received by Mexican Canadians, seems to have very limited support in Washington , where it is recalled that both M Both Mexico and Canada are part of the North American free trade agreement, which also includes the United States. Between the US and the EU, however, there is nothing like it.
So the fight for technological primacy in the 21st century can become the great fault line of the political romance, between Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron. It is very probable that the summit leaves everything for, literally, next Monday. Because that day a new meeting of the US-EU Technological and Commercial Council established in 2021 is held, with the aim of coordinating transatlantic technology policy to, precisely, face competition from China. There he will continue the negotiation again.
But, by then, Macron will already be at the Elysee and his triumphant visit to Washington will be just a memory marked by affection and the lack of concrete results.