SIn form, Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to Washington is under the best auspices. This is the second of its kind for the French president, an unprecedented honor under the Ve Republic. Above all, it positions the Head of State as the natural leader of a Europe which seeks to consolidate its partnership with the United States.
The trip looks more complicated on the merits of the files. Emmanuel Macron’s mission is to present Joe Biden with the grievances of the European Union (EU) at a time when it is torn between its de facto dependence on Washington and its legitimate desires for sovereignty.
If the conflict in Ukraine has shown an unfailing alignment between the two allies, it is different on the economic level. The adoption in August of a gigantic package of subsidies to attract to the United States the investments necessary for the energy transition constitutes a threat for European industry already weakened by the loss of competitiveness linked to the energy crisis. ” Choices that will fragment the West,” warns Emmanuel Macron.
The EU is justified in protesting against this blatant protectionism which contravenes the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO). But, in a world where security and strategic concerns take precedence over multilateralism, the Europeans are not the best equipped to have their interests respected.
Narrow room for maneuver
These weigh very little against the two current concerns of the United States: rivalry with China and the polarization of American society, which Joe Biden is trying to overcome through a protectionist policy. In this context, fair rules in world trade are becoming obsolete, and the French president is not wrong when he asserts that there is a risk that ” France and Europe become an adjustment variable”.
If the sentence is offensive, it unfortunately describes in hollow the narrowness of European room for manoeuvre. First, it is difficult to criticize the United States when they are finally giving themselves the means to achieve their climate goals. Then, the EU is having a hard time developing a response to the American offensive, without denying its principles of free trade and openness to the world.
Triggering a trade war when the Western side needs unity is not the best option. The process would be long and the results uncertain, especially since the United States is paralyzing the arbitration mechanism of the WTO. To retaliate with the same weapons, that is to say by establishing a kind of “Buy European Act”, as proposed by the French President, does not seem more plausible, given the lack of consensus on the subject within the Twenty -Seven. Lacking strategic autonomy in many areas, Europe knows that it cannot deploy commercial barbed wire along its borders without triggering retaliatory measures with disastrous effects.
The pandemic, the energy crisis, the Russian threat at the gates of Europe have been able to provoke a reflex of solidarity within the EU, while advancing in people’s minds the need for a sovereign Europe. Except that this one cannot be decreed. It is built on the basis of common interests that everyone must defend, sometimes to the detriment of their own. The cases pleaded in Washington constitute a crucial test to know if the Europeans have reached this degree of maturity and are finally ready to make their update. Finally, in this trip, Emmanuel Macron is speaking more to his European partners than to Joe Biden himself.