For the second time since he became president, Emmanuel Macron will be honored, this Thursday, with a gala dinner at the White House, the honor reserved for "state visits", the highest level of diplomatic protocol. This is a first in Joe Biden's term and a sign that the relationship between the United States and France, historical allies, is not going through its best moment and it is urgent to restore full mutual trust.
Already in 2018, Donald Trump pampered Macron with the same treatment, in another attempt to temper the mood after the rudeness of the then US president and the havoc caused by his ultranationalist America first policy. The problem is that with Biden, despite his much kinder and friendlier tone towards Europeans, Paris continues to think that the US fund strategy does not differ too much from America first, and in some cases that defense of national interests at all costs is still more accused.
Le Journal du Dimanche wondered in its latest issue if Biden "will not have something to be forgiven for" with his gesture of hospitality towards Macron. A year ago now, in fact, there was a very serious crisis – with the temporary withdrawal even of the French ambassador in Washington – when Paris was not informed of the Pacific defense pact, Aukus (between Australia, the USA and the United Kingdom ), and watched as Australia broke its contract to purchase French submarines and announced that it would purchase them from the Americans and the British.
The grievance of the submarines has already been quite overcome and it is even possible – irony of fate – that France, as Macron himself revealed a few days ago, ends up selling the controversial submersibles to Australia because the American and British manufacturers are overwhelmed with so many orders and it will be years before they can supply them to Canberra.
Other perhaps more serious issues are now clouding the Franco-American relationship. The cataclysm caused by the war in Ukraine has placed France and the rest of Europe in a very delicate situation, while Washington achieves clear advantages in the economic sphere and geostrategic influence. One of the objectives of Macron's trip is precisely to try to negotiate a balance in the management of the crisis so that the European allies are not the big losers.
The weekly L'Express dedicated the main theme of last week's edition to the benefits that the United States obtains from the Ukrainian conflict, from the massive sale of arms to the allies to the round deal that involves the export of its liquefied gas to Europe, that sells at a price up to three times higher than what Americans pay.
In France, Joe Biden's aggressive policy to protect his industry is disturbing. The biggest example is the Inflation Reduction Act, a shower of public dollars that is equivalent to a massive subsidy of products made in the USA. In France and other European countries, it is feared that, if things continue like this for a long time, there will be relocations of companies to take advantage of the lower costs of manufacturing in the US If for decades the labor cost factor was decisive in the phenomenon of relocation, the price of energy may now become the number one reason, at least for sectors that need a lot of consumption to function.
Macron, who is flying to Washington today with a large delegation of businessmen, will be able to discuss with the US president the hypothetical scenarios for a solution to the war in Ukraine. The French president was very active in trying to stop the Russian offensive, with multiple calls to Putin, despite the fact that Washington considered the invasion inevitable. Macron's position has evolved. If at the beginning he said that Russia should not be "humiliated", now he avoids using those terms and is much harsher. Still, Paris would like to have leverage when the guns fall silent and help shape a new European security structure that is not entirely dependent on the US ally.
Recently, in a speech on military strategy, from the port of Toulon, Macron recalled that France has not renounced its vocation –since the days of General De Gaulle– as a “balancing power”, with its own autonomy, and not systematically seeing subservient to Washington. But it is doubtful that her hosts in the federal capital, despite the outpouring of diplomatic courtesies, are very sensitive to the desires of the incombustible French grandeur.