Paris-Washington Axis: a New Era in Euro-Atlantic Relations or a Fake?
French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump react in the courtyard after a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 13, 2017.
At the moment, there is an ongoing controversy surrounding the sharp warming of relations between the US and France. E. Macron, whose speech on the historic partnership of the states was greeted with ovations in Congress, claims to be the main advocate of the interests of the European Union before the United States. This trend is particularly noticeable as it is timed to coincide with tension between D. Trump on the one hand, and A. Merkel and T. May on the other. In this research, we analyze the potential of France as a key player in building a new Euro-Atlantic partnership.
The hypothesis of the research is following: Despite the common belief that French-American relations are now in their ‘honeymoon phase’ due to a revolutionary strategy of E. Macron, shared by scholarly and media community, these implications are largely speculative. That is due to the fact that they are primarily concerned with interpersonal communication between D. Trump and E. Macron during their limited meetings. However, as the potential for close cooperation between the US, Germany and Great Britain keeps decreasing, creating a Euro-Atlantic alliance through establishing Paris-Washington Axis seems much more likely. Henceforth, it is vital for Russia to take this trend into consideration while building its foreign policy agenda.
The methodology of this research is presented by content analysis, SWOT-analysis, and factor analysis on different parts of the highlighted hypothesis. The content-analysis included the analysis of three American (The New York Times, The Washington Post, The National Interest) and three French media (Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération). The sample was random, the units of analysis were selected by three from each source taken), and also two American (The Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies) and two French analytical centers (La Fondation Robert Schuman, La Fondation pour l'innovation politique) with different political orientation (progressive and conservative).
‘Bromance’ or the friendship that lasts forever
So, the content analysis of the coverage of the interaction of the American and French leaders in a number of American and French media and analytical centers with different political orientations has led us to a number of conclusions. In particular, the emotional assessment of the future of the Franco-American partnership
It turned out to be positive only in 44% of cases, which indicates inadequacy of this indicator and the existence of doubts among political and expert elites.
The confidence that relations are developing, although it makes up 76%, is based solely on analysis of the presidents’ behavior during meetings (especially the April meeting, which in most cases is recognized as defining), although none of three Macron goals on arrival in the US was ever achieved (JCPOA, steel and aluminum tariffs, the retention of the U.S. troops in Syria)
We also came to the conclusion that the analyzed resources pay great attention to the image of Macron's figure and the definition of his role in the warming of relations. In 64% it is he who is given credit for this change. But, as we see in 36% of the cases (and this was typical of American conservative resources) there is an opinion that Emmanuel Macron greatly exaggerates his influence on D. Trump and, while going on with the rhetoric of managing to convince the American president on any important political issue, Macron does risk losing all sympathy on his part (The Washington Post, 2018).
Both the French and American media and think tanks consider building mutually beneficial relations between states possible and only a small number of them (mostly pro-democratic resources express the belief that such an outcome is inevitable) (The New York Times, The Brookings Institution, 2018).
The grounding of the prospects for the relations between the US and France was also significant. Regardless of political orientation and home country, resources focus strictly on personal sympathy of two leaders (80%). Trump’s complex approach or the existence of any strategy is not mentioned at all. It is worth noting here that the media and think tanks of both countries did not skimp on criticizing American president. In 20% of cases they do recognizes the merit of Macron, as a strategist and a successful diplomat, but the main argument remains subjective and controversial.
So, American resources focused on the mutual sympathies of the presidents, their unwavering friendship, embrace, belief in an unprecedented improvement in relations precisely during their presidency.
But the negative line towards Macron, his manipulations and strategies of subordinating Trump to his will was very clearly traced (the titles, such as “Have Trump and Macron learned to use each other?”, “Macron embraces Trump – and elegantly knifes him in the back” prevailed) (The Washington Post, 2018). He was characterized as strong and dangerous politician (“The ‘Macron miracle’ could transform France into a global powerhouse”), a threat to the national interests of the United States (The National Interest, 2018).
The analysis of French-American relations, conveyed by the most read French media, is not particularly prominent or detailed either. For instance, some are exploring the significance of Pinot Noire served at the presidential dinner as a turning point for the French-American relations (La libre, 2018).
Why France, and not Great Britain or Germany?
There is a number of objective reasons why it is France, and not Germany or the United Kingdom, that has the chance to become the axis of cooperation between Europe and the United States.
France's leading role both in the world and in the European arena fits perfectly into the foreign policy concept of E. Macron, which is far enough from the Gaullist views of his predecessors. On the background of the weakening German foreign policy ambitions (which is currently focusing on the economic benefits of strengthening within the EU), as well as its consistent isolationism (demonstrated, for example, by non-participation in resolving a number of regional conflicts in the Middle East), France turns out to be the strongest political player among traditional European leaders. The UK, which is in the process of seceding from the EU, can no longer influence the foreign policy of the states of continental Europe. Accordingly, by "special relationship" D. Trump now means not British-American relations, but French-American – the status of Great Britain as a permanent junior partner of the United States is becoming the thing of the past.
In the process of factor analysis of German-American relations and its prospects, we have come to the following conclusions. Despite the fact that Germany and the US have gained an extensive experience in collaborating on numerous issues and maintaining a political alliance and economic codependency, the contemporary relations are damaged by pre-existing disagreements and contradictions of national interests.
• The necessity of military intervention to Syria
• NATO budget
• Ecological policy
• Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
• US trade deficit– $ 2.3 billion (Pew Research Center, 2018)
• USA = main market for German export
• Disagreement about “Nord Stream 2”
• Disagreement about steel and aluminum tariffs
• Asymmetrical public opinion:
11% of Germans approve of D. Trump’s actions
56% of Americans approve of A. Merkel’s actions (Pew Research Center, 2018)
• Merkel’s support of H. Clinton during the 2016 campaign
• Open critique by Trump: Merkel “ruins Germany” (Twitter, 2015)
• Different negotiation style
Trump and Merkel disagree on the question of military intervention to Syria, the status of Jerusalem. Also Germany is unhappy with Donald Trump’s withdrawal from JCPOA and Paris Accord. From the American side, there have been accusations of Germany’s neglecting its responsibilities as a NATO state member and not allocating enough of its budget to military expenses. In the economic sphere the biggest disagreements are due to the building of “Nord Stream 2”, which worries the US as a possible reason for ties between Russia and Germany. Moreover, a major reason for A. Merkel’s visit of the White House earlier this year was negotiating a deal for Germany which would annul the tariffs on steel and aluminum imported to the US. So far the negotiations have not come to a success.
As for the social factor, we noticed the asymmetry of public opinion among the inhabitants of the two countries. 11% of German respondents approve of Trump's policies. Merkel's actions are commended by more than half of Americans (Pew Research Center, 2018). Such apprehension of Donald Trump obviously influences the overall approach of Germany to German-American relations and shows the decline the American soft power in this aspect. One cannot help but mention the ideological, or psychological factor. During the presidential election campaign in the US in 2016, A. Merkel expressed her support for Hillary Clinton, and spoke highly of the experience of their joint work. For his part, being a candidate from the Republican Party, D. Trump called the migration policy of A. Merkel "insane", and Merkel herself - a person, destroying Germany (Twitter, 2015). Naturally, these statements were not forgotten with D. Trump entering the office, and adversely affect relations between the heads of state. In addition, A. Merkel is a supporter of traditional diplomacy, built on high politics and long-term alliances of superpowers, and for Trump the profitability of a deal for the US is the only thing that matters.
Speaking about British-American relations, it is impossible to deny their historical closeness. Nevertheless, currently in British-American relations there are actually the same pitfalls as in the German-American relations, especially in the political sphere.
• NATO budget
• Ecological policy
• Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
• The UK can’t enter into trade agreements until the completion of the Brexit
• The choice between a free trade agreement with the US and the preservation of trade preferences with the EU
• Disagreement about steel and aluminum tariffs
• Asymmetry of public opinion:
50% of Britons are positive about the United States (Pew Research Center, 2017);
91% of Americans are positive about the UK (Gallup, 2017)
• Historically, "special relationship" is based on personal sympathy - Churchill/Roosevelt, Reagan / Thatcher, Blair / Bush Jr.
• Support of T. May for the Democratic Party during the campaign of 2016; D. Trump’s open criticism of May
• Conflict between S. Khan and D. Trump
In the economic sphere, the United Kingdom now prioritizes the problems associated with the withdrawal from the EU. It further complicates the relations with the United States, as the new status and role of UK as a non-EU state may vary drastically from what they were before. Theresa May is forced to choose between a free trade agreement with the US and the preservation of trade preferences with the European Union. Also, Brussels strongly opposes a separate agreement on steel and aluminum with the United Kingdom, threatening with sanctions. As in the case of Germany, there is asymmetry in public opinion. Half of Britons have an overall positive attitude toward the United States (Pew Research Center, 2017). A similar opinion is held by a 91% of Americans (Gallup, 2017). The lack of support for American global policy is demonstrative of the deteriorating British-American relations.
It is important to note that the historically relationship is built largely on the personal sympathy of the leaders of the two states. This is especially noticeable in the duets of Churchill and Roosevelt, Reagan and Thatcher, Tony Blair and George Bush Jr. This cannot be expected of Theresa May and Donald Trump. May also supported Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, and Trump openly criticized the passiveness of May’s domestic policies. The conflict between Trump and Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, also became widely known, after which Trump's visit to the capital to open the new US embassy was cancelled (Time, 2018).
At the moment American relations with Germany are going through some difficulties and the states have accumulated a lot of mutual accusations. On the other hand, the UK is now forced to solve its own problems related to withdrawal from the European Union. Also, both countries were criticized by D. Trump for their insufficient attention to ensuring security and inadequate defense budget. First and foremost, the US president appreciates hard power, and pragmatically approaches the alliances of the United States. That is why, in order to build a transatlantic partnership, Germany and the United Kingdom, from D. Trump's point of view, cannot offer quite enough. Let us turn to the potential for building such a partnership with France.
• The prevalence of liberal ideas and values in the national identity of countries
• Personal affection of D. Trump and E. Macron
• The similarity of negotiating strategies and the flexibility of E. Macron
• The same vision of terrorism in Africa
• Combining military capabilities to resolve crises in the Middle East
• Joint struggle against nuclear proliferation
• Increasing cooperation on combating terrorism (ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Qaida)
• Macron disagrees with the protectionist policy of D. Trump E.
• Negative perception of D. Trump by the population of France
• The need to maintain positive relations with the leaders of other European states for E. Macron
• Isolationism of D. Trump
As a result of SWOT analysis, we find that the strengths and opportunities of the prospective alliance exceed its potential drawbacks. Nonetheless, there are certain risks for France that are coming from an excessively close ties with the United States. The desire to strengthen France’s position with respect to stature and prestige in world affairs due to the status of "trustee" of D. Trump can result in, first of almost importantly, significant economic costs. The decision of Donald Trump to withdraw from JCPOA means large losses for French companies (primarily, Total, Groupe PSA and Airbus), a rise in prices for imported oil from Iran and a fall in the euro exchange rate. In addition, it symbolizes the partial collapse of E. Macron's strategy (for the continued participation of the United States in JCPOA, along with the decision on tariffs on steel and aluminum, was the main item on the agenda during his last visit to the United States). In addition, the historical experience of France in the second half of the 20th century shows that it is the opposition to the United States and the building its own independent policy that strengthens its foreign policy position.
Macron’s balancing strategy and Russia
Concerning the unpredictability of D. Trump's political decisions, it is obvious that it is impossible to build equal and mutually beneficial relations between France and the United States, which are not associated with significant concessions of France. Thus, the discussion that arises in the French political and expert communities about the need for "reinsurance" has objective reasons. One of the solutions which, it seems to us, Macron might make (according to recent events) is an attempt to balance his western and eastern policies (under the eastern direction, we mean Russia). Its result was the statements of E. Macron about the need to build cooperation with Russia and to prevent its international isolation (TASS, Axios, 2018). This approach will allow Paris to balance between the U.S. and Russia in the periods of crisis. For example, France's position in the UN Security Council on any issues (most importantly, on the Middle East conflicts resolution) may present a way for balancing and negotiating better deals for France with Donald Trump.
Nevertheless, the space for maneuvering French diplomacy has visible boundaries. Excessive rapprochement with Russia will provoke the degradation of French-American relations and increase economic risks. The possibilities of French diplomacy are also limited both by caution due to American partners and the uncertainty of the future of these relations, and by European allies (whose opinion is of critical importance since, by positioning itself as a new center of European integration, France takes the risks of weighing each foreign policy decision and its coordination with European political elites – both in the Russian direction, and in the direction of the United States). In turn, excessively close ties with the US means the need to pivot to American national interests and the loss of the postulated equality of the French-American alliance.
Still, what is happening symbolizes a very important shift not only for the Euro-Atlantic Partnership, the future of which remained uncertain until the recent past, but also for opportunities for cooperation with Russia, which was on the sidelines of global politics after the events of 2014. The next few months could make or break the France’s new status as a frontrunner of the European Union, depending on how well Emmanuel Macron plays his cards.
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