The French President, Emmanuel Macron, visited the US, meeting with President Donald Trump and addressing both Houses of Congress. Macron, the young reformist who stormed to the Presidency in 2017, has established a close bond with Trump, who is known for his volatile interactions with world leaders.
Macron made a special effort to remain close with Trump, and the two were shown embracing after a joint press conference. However, whilst Macron stayed in Trump’s good books during the meeting, he did take jabs at the President over his policy agenda. Macron has come to typify the alternative to Trump’s populist driven campaign, embracing openly the concepts of globalisation, environmentalism and free trade. Trump, who announced a raft of new tariffs last month, has become embroiled in a war of words with the European Union, an organisation that Macron would like to see France take a lead within.
Macron warned that a trade war would destroy jobs and pleaded with Trump to negotiate via the World Trade Organisation during his address to Congress. Macron also offered an alternative on the environment. The Paris Climate agreement, from which Trump withdrew the US following his election as President in 2016, has been a centrepiece of French policy, and Macron lifted Trump’s infamous campaign slogan to promote his environmental credentials, calling on Congress to help “make the world great again”. The speech was well received despite these clear rebukes to the President, who is far from universally popular across Congress. A three-minute standing ovation greeted Macron as he finished yet another speech seeking to stamp his authority as the leader of the West.
The picture for Macron at home is not quite so rosy, as a looming clash with France’s notoriously prickly unions has finally come to pass. Rail strikes crippled the French transport system in April as workers walked out in protest at government plans to strip in-work benefits. These plans come as part of a wider attempt to restructure France’s tottering public sector, and has already seen major reform of the civil service. Macron has further proposed billions in spending cuts and slashing corporation tax in an effort to make France more attractive to potential Brexit-shy banks and businesses. He has faced sustained resistance from the powerful unions, and upcoming attempts to reform labour laws are sure to spark further backlash.
Nonetheless, Macron’s visit to the US has been a remarkable success. The young President has delivered another masterclass in managing the enigmatic Donald Trump, and will look to take this international momentum into his domestic reforms, as his poll numbers struggle and the reality of his ambitious reforms sets in.
For Trump, the completion of an international visit without incident will be a relief for the beleaguered President, who is facing increasing domestic pressure as the investigation by Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election turned its focus onto Trump’s lawyers and legal team. The President has struggled to maintain any lasting relationships on the global stage, with tumultuous relations with May and Xi Jinping, but ahead of potentially groundbreaking negotiations with North Korea, the bond with Macron appears strong.