President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Washington DC on Tuesday evening for a three-day state visit during which the war in Ukraine, the effect of the US Inflation Reduction Act on European industry, energy costs and relations with China will be the main subjects of discussion.
Macron is the first leader to be invited by President Joe Biden for a state visit, which will include a 21-gun salute, a state dinner for several hundred people at the White House and a joint press conference.
Macron is also the first French president to have made two state visits to Washington. Donald Trump invited him too, in the spring of 2018.
“We had never seen the same person invited twice for state visits, four years apart,” Gérard Araud, who was French ambassador to Washington from 2014 until 2019, told L’Opinion newspaper. “This proves that Emmanuel Macron knew how to navigate relations with Trump as well as with Biden, which is not an obvious achievement, since the two men have totally different personalities.”
Macron’s entourage say he will speak for Europe in Washington and seem to see him as an intermediary between the EU and US.
“When we go to the United States, we also wish to defend European interests,” says an adviser. “This state visit is a strong gesture which the US is making towards our country, a mark of recognition not only of the excellence of the bilateral relationship, but also of the particular status which is ours in the relationship between Europe and the US.”
The political scientist Nicole Bacharan, a leading expert on Franco-American relations, says that Macron “wants to speak for Europe, but I am not sure he truly does. I think the state visit offered by the US is a way of honouring Europe as well as France, because France might not speak for all of Europe, but it is pivotal in Europe. You cannot have a strong alliance with Europe if France is not on board.”
The repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are sure to be the main topic of conversation. “There are so many emergencies concerning Ukraine,” says Bacharan. “The first issue is weapons. France has not sent a lot of weapons. It’s not that they don’t want to; it’s that they don’t have them. There is a shortage everywhere in the [Atlantic] alliance and especially an acute shortage of ammunition.”
Macron wants to act in such a way “that the war [in Ukraine] ends around a negotiating table and not on the battlefield” the Élysée says.
“The US administration is fairly close to Emmanuel Macron’s position,” Araud says, adding that Washington does not mind that Macron continues to talk to Vladimir Putin on the telephone. “For Biden’s team, this war is a distraction from the subject that really counts for them, which is China. They don’t want to support Ukraine in a war that goes on forever. The Americans are realists ... They don’t want Russia to win, that is certain, but they want to get out of this is rapidly as possible.”
The US Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Congress in August, will give between $350 and $400 billion in state subsidies for American companies, seriously penalising European industry. An adviser to Macron spoke repeatedly of the need to “resynchronise American and European agendas”. While the US and Europe are “in perfect agreement” regarding Ukraine, he said, the economic consequences of the war on Europe are not sufficiently considered by Washington.
“We have similar or identical sanctions against Russia on both sides of the Atlantic, in the US and the EU,” the adviser says. “These sanctions do not have the same consequences at all, because the US are self-sufficient in petrol and gas, while the EU does not produce gas or petrol in sufficient quantities, and so is very impacted by the rise in energy prices.”
Despite recent discord between them, Paris and Berlin are united in their consternation over the US Inflation Reduction Act. The German automobile industry will suffer from the $7,500 tax credit for US-made electrical vehicles. The French solar and wind energy industry will also be disadvantaged. To counterbalance the effects of the Inflation Reduction Act, Macron proposes a Buy European Act.
Macron knows he cannot fundamentally change the Inflation Reduction Act, which was a Biden campaign promise. But he may obtain some exemptions for Europe, similar to those accorded to Canada and Mexico. “I don’t think Macron will come back empty-handed,” says Bacharan. “The plan is to have a smooth visit and to show the world, China and Russia, that there is a very, very strong Western front.”
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have eased slightly since Biden met President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Bali in mid-November, but French sources often evoke the danger that Europe will be dragged by the US into a cold war with China.
If there is a cold war, says Bacharan, it has been created by China, which has hardened its policies over the past decade, “whether it be internal repression, the Uighurs, trade, plundering intellectual property everywhere, as well as investing massively in Europe, central Asia, and Africa, with nothing but anti-democratic projects behind that. To me the whole responsibility is with China. I don’t see how France cannot be on the same side as the US.”
Macron’s visit will include a private dinner with the Bidens, and a state lunch given by vice-president Kamala Harris at the State Department, followed by the state dinner on Thursday night at the White House. The French president will end his visit in New Orleans, where he will create a fund for the study of the French language, on Friday.
Macron’s official delegation, who will attend the state dinner, includes his ministers for defence, the economy and foreign affairs, the Irish-American author Douglas Kennedy, described by the Élysée as “particularly Francophile and Francophone”, Bernard Arnault, who is France’s richest man and the owner of the LVMH luxury consortium, Xavier Niel, whose Illiad group owns the Irish telephone company Eir, and Patrick Pouyanné, the chief executive of the Total petroleum company.