U.S. President Donald Trump is in Paris for a visit with French President Emmanuel Macron that is ripe with opportunity for increasing cooperation between the United States and France on a wide range of international issues. Trump arrived July 13, and will be the guest of honor during the Bastille Day military parade July 14.
U.S. relations with Europe under Trump got off to a rocky start because of the U.S. president's criticism of the European Union, his rejection of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and his protectionist views on trade. But newly elected Macron considers finding common ground with the U.S. government a critical part of his strategy to start building his foreign policy and to elevate France's role in global affairs.
Trump's visit offers members of the new French government an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the president and his team. Macron has been president for only a month, and his administration wants to better understand the U.S. position on a variety of issues, from the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the situation in North Korea, to the prospect of a trade war between the European Union and the United States. More important, France is interested in expanding its anti-terrorism cooperation with the United States — a priority, considering the multiple attacks France has suffered in recent years.
Trump and Macron will also discuss the situation in Syria. The Macron government has adopted a more flexible position on the Syrian civil war than its predecessor, stating that the departure of president Bashar al Assad is no longer a precondition for ending the conflict. The French have also reached out to Russia for possible solutions. (Russian president Vladimir Putin was in France in late May.) In addition, France wants U.S. financial support for a West African military force to fight Islamist militants in the region. Last month, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution backing a 5,000-strong West African force, but the United States declined to offer funding for it.
An invitation to attend the military parade is symbolic. After the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union, France will be the only EU country in the U.N. Security Council and the only member state with a global military reach. At a time when Germany's economic might makes it the main political player in Europe, France is interested in taking advantage of its own strength as a military player. It wants to develop a foreign policy that recognizes its membership in the European Union but is also as independent as possible. Developing ties with the United States and Russia is part of that strategy.
Ultimately, France sees Trump's visit as an opportunity to become the United States' main interlocutor in the European Union. This also presents an opportunity for the U.S. government to make diplomatic inroads with the European Union. Trump has a good relationship with British Prime Minister Theresa May, but her government is weak and the United Kingdom is on its way out of the Continental bloc. And U.S. relations with Germany remain somewhat cold: The White House recently accused Berlin of unfairly benefitting from its massive trade surplus.
Last week, a representative for the French government said that one of the main drivers for Macron's invitation to Trump was to prevent the U.S. president from isolating himself from his European counterparts. The representative admitted that the United States and France have different views on many issues but stressed that rapport between the two is essential. Paris hopes that a more open dialogue with Washington will lead to more concrete cooperation between the European Union and the United States.