Sunday 23 July 2017

Mary Fitzgerald: Macron shows charm is better than confrontation with Trump

French President Emmanuel Macron (2ndR) and his wife Brigitte Macron walk with U.S. President Donald Trump (2ndL) and U.S. First Lady Melania Trump during the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Christophe Archambault/Pool
French President Emmanuel Macron (2ndR) and his wife Brigitte Macron walk with U.S. President Donald Trump (2ndL) and U.S. First Lady Melania Trump during the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Christophe Archambault/Pool

Mary Fitzgerald

For a man who used to claim "Paris isn't Paris anymore", US president Donald Trump certainly appeared to be enjoying himself amid the pomp of the French capital's Bastille Day celebrations this week.

There as guest of France's new president, Emmanuel Macron, Mr Trump seemed almost deferential towards his much younger French counterpart. French media sought to portray Mr Macron's invitation to the man considered his opposite in so many ways as something of an olive branch. Relations between the two had started with a notably testy handshake in Brussels in May which Mr Macron described as "not innocent". Since then serious disagreements over climate and trade - along with some social media trolling by Mr Macron - had seemed to signal that this would be a turbulent relationship.

Donald Trump is greeted by Brigitte Macron in Paris Photo: MICHEL EULER/AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump is greeted by Brigitte Macron in Paris Photo: MICHEL EULER/AFP/Getty Images

Left-wing French daily 'Libération's' splashed its front page with the headline, "Donald Trump: A pariah in Paris" and went on to ponder: "Facing the temptation of isolationism of the American president, Emmanuel Macron hosts him for a bling bling visit. It is enough to coax him?" The more sober 'Le Monde' noted that the French president "wants to bring his guest out of his international isolation" but it went on to describe the invitation as a "diplomatic gamble".

The visit played well in France, however: a poll by BFMTV showed some 59pc of French people thought Mr Macron was justified in inviting Mr Trump to Paris. American journalists travelling with Mr Trump were surprised not to see more protesters - only a paltry 200 turned up on Place de la Republique - during the two-day visit.

Mr Macron's charm offensive is considered risky because the two men are so different and Mr Trump so volatile.

Mr Trump courts climate-change deniers and pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement earlier this year to the dismay of Mr Macron, one of its leading champions.

Mr Trump favours bilateral trade deals and applauded the UK's decision to leave the EU, while Mr Macron is a firm believer in globalisation and wants France to embrace it more. Mr Macron's more pluralist vision is at odds with Mr Trump's often gauche and insular 'America First' messaging.

But Mr Macron has clearly decided that Mr Trump is a reality that is not going away anytime soon and perhaps charm will work better than confrontation.

As one American journalist quoted by 'Le Monde' noted, Mr Trump's "narcissistic personality responds well to compliments". One thing the two men have in common is that both came to their respective presidencies as political outsiders: Mr Trump as a tycoon few took seriously as a presidential candidate while Mr Macron, the youngest president in the history of modern France, only founded his En Marche! political movement a year ago.

Since taking office, Mr Macron has managed to also secure an overwhelming parliamentary majority and his ratings remain high. All that, together with an emerging presidential style some commentators have dubbed 'Jupiterian' for its aloofness, have helped bolster the impression that Mr Macron seeks to widen France's role on the European and broader international stage. Hence the need to get Mr Trump onside if Macron is - with Britain in disarray and Germany's Angela Merkel unable to mask her dislike of the new American president - to position himself as the key transatlantic interlocutor.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte leave after the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Élysées in Paris yesterday during Donald Trump’s visit. Photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte leave after the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Élysées in Paris yesterday during Donald Trump’s visit. Photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters

At their joint press conference, Mr Trump seemed to be at pains to praise his French counterpart. Asked about the friend called "Jim" whom he cited on the campaign trail last year saying "Paris isn't Paris anymore" because of the threat of extremism, Mr Trump rowed back and said the city was "going to be just fine" because France now has a "great" and "tough" president.

All this after he suggested earlier this year that Mr Macron's rival for the presidency - far-right candidate Marine Le Pen - would win the elections because of her tough anti-immigration policies.

Mr Trump even hinted - in his by now familiar vague and disjointed way - that his decision to withdraw from the climate deal negotiated in Paris two years ago might not be set in stone. "Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord, we'll see what happens. If it happens, that'll be wonderful, if it doesn't, that'll be OK too," he said.

Other prickly issues discussed in their bilateral meetings included trade, refugees, Ukraine, Syria and combating terrorism, the fruits of which will only become clear in the weeks and months ahead. But for now it appears Trump leaves Paris feeling like he has made a new - and rather unlikely - friend.

What comes out of this curious relationship in the longer term is another question.

Irish Independent

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