After a “manly” first handshake in Taormina at the G7 in 2017, the relationship between the two Heads of State gradually warmed up; Trump was guest of honor last year at the Bastille Day parade, where he did not hide his excitement for the military show. In return, in April, Trump chose Macron for the first State visit of his administration, whose speech at Congress led to a standing ovation.
Despite those symbolic gestures, Macron’s strategy ultimately failed. Trump never made concrete steps towards reconciling with the EU. On the contrary, Trump’s attitude at the G7 in Charlevoix is proof of Macron’s diplomatic defeat. Trump’s withdraw from the common press release – at the last moment and by a simple tweet nonetheless – is the cherry on the top of a sour cake.
Macron took a strong stance against the U.S., warning Trump that he is not eternal, and brandished common values to underline that together the “G6” are more powerful than the U.S. alone. It would be an understatement to say there is now cast a grim outlook on the Macron-Trump “special relationship.”
But every story can have a happy outcome. The disturbances made by Trump at the G7 called for a more united Europe. President Macron and Chancellor Merkel took the window of opportunity offered by this uncertain international context to make historical announcements, relaunch the engine of the European unification, and strengthen the Franco-German axis.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Macron met on the 19th of June for the Franco-German Council of Ministers at Meseberg Castle outside of Berlin. They signed a declaration to reform Europe which includes proposals on migration, defense, and taxation, but the main accomplishment is the agreement they found to strengthen the Eurozone, seeking to fortify Europe against financial crises and strengthen its global influence. This last part was not easy to agree upon; this was one of Macron’s priorities for Europe and an area where Chancellor Merkel remained reluctant. However, in light of the recent refugee crisis she is facing, Chancellor Merkel needed Macron’s help to secure an agreement at the EU level on migration, and therefore became more likely to take a step in Macron’s direction on the Eurozone.
Undoubtedly, Chancellor Merkel’s internal troubles in refugee policy encouraged her to make some concessions. And some also say that the deal is not going far enough – there was no agreement on how large the EU budget should be – and is not conclusive enough. According to some high representatives, the two countries are still engaged in intensive discussions on many points, and that, for most sceptics, the German/French cooperation is – to use the French President’s favourite expression – “de la poudre de perlimpinpin”- in other words, is just a simple political show.
But still, some others – myself included – think that this is the step we were waiting for to give the EU the push it needed. No one believed that an agreement between France and Germany could be found on companies’ taxation, on the Eurozone budget, the French prerequisite to prevent a future economic crisis, a common approach to design aircrafts of the future, or laying down the foundations of a European defense. Despite all the criticisms and against all odds, Macron and Merkel did it. I believe it is a first step for the EU, yes, but many hurdles still lie ahead. In addition to overcoming internal difficulties, Germany and France will have to rally other Member States, which means that a much bigger challenge to overcome awaits.