But diplomatic niceties cannot hide the gap between the US establishment’s view of China as its main competitor and Berlin’s interest in maintaining the highest trade relations. It is one of several cracks seeping into US-EU relations in an attempt to stave off the Trump era, with observers saying there is a risk of a collision.
The White House no longer sees Europe as an “enemy” that free-rides on American security, profits from exports with an undervalued euro, and entrusts Russia with energy supplies. Both allies are on the same geopolitical page over the invasion of Ukraine, with Germany now willing to spend on defense and less on Russian gas.
But at the same time, the US believes that the EU is not doing enough: it is not sending enough military or financial support to Kiev, and it is not being tough enough against China, as Scholz-Biden’s call suggests. The EU’s view of Beijing as a partner, competitor and rival to Washington is too gloomy. “There is no Europe in China,” says former Obama aide Benjamin Rhodes.
Resentment is growing in Europe over the widening economic gap with the US. The eurozone’s trade surplus is now a deficit as expensive energy imports impoverish European consumers and enrich American exporters. According to strategist Nicolas Goetzmann, the purchase of durable goods (cars, washing machines) in the US from 2019 December. grew by 24%, but fell by 6.7% in France. New protectionist US subsidies for electric cars are rubbing salt in the wounds of EU manufacturers.
Here is an opportunity for Macron, who himself is at odds with Scholz on several issues, to seize the opportunity to build better transatlantic ties in a hurry, when on December 1st. will meet with Biden. It is important and symbolic that Macron will be the first US president to visit the state.
One of the challenges is to show the US why France and Europe should be nurtured as partners and not dismissed as irrelevant. Macron will be referring to the humiliating VICTIMS episode in which Australia’s deal to buy French submarines was scrapped in favor of an alliance with the UK and the US.
In addition to pledging more support to Kiev, France should seek more common ground with Biden on the Indo-Pacific and China. France is the only EU power present in the region, says Camille Grand of the ECFR, with around 7,000 troops and 1.5 million people. citizens. Its strategy is already aimed at complementing the US, even as it sees itself as a “balancing power”. Macron said in September that France wanted to counter the risk of regional “hegemony” by working with India and Australia.
Although France is not fully aligned with the US, it can at least take a position closer to Washington than to Berlin. China is France’s 5th largest trading partner, with about 87.3 billion. When Macron met Xi on the floor of the G20, it was more in line with Biden than Scholz. Paris needs to “play its cards” as European allies jockey for influence, says Jeremie Gallon of McLarty Associates.
In return, Macron should also seek more US support for the European economy, whose dire prospects have been underappreciated in the States. If Washington really wants to spread the gospel of “friendship” among allies and NATO partners, it should find a compromise to reduce the escalation of subsidies for electric vehicles.
Given Obama’s pressure on Angela Merkel during the eurozone crisis, the U.S. may also see the benefits of agreeing to boost European growth through more investment and overall borrowing, which Berlin opposes. France’s energy bailout policy has highlighted how war and energy are driving euro zone inflation, rather than the overheating seen in the US. Spend more, not less.
One visit will not be a panacea. The level of trust between France and the US has been clouded by ambiguity over Paris’s desire for a European- or French-led defence. While Macron presides over the EU’s only nuclear power and most reliable military, he has also ruffled feathers by failing to lead military aid to Ukraine and by talking up NATO’s goal in the past. It is “not the most popular among Eastern Europeans and even Southern Europeans,” write Ilke Toygur and Max Bergmann of the CSIS think tank.
But the symbolism and rhetoric of the French-American meeting in Washington, D.C., created by a French architect, will be a good start. The Macron administration needs to ease the pain of the Franco-German deadlock and energy crisis. And as former ambassador Pierre Vimont pointed out, the Biden administration needs allies like Europe to push its global agenda. It’s worth a try.
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This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering digital currencies, the European Union and France. He was previously a reporter for Reuters and Forbes.
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