Emmanuel Macron has crushed Donald Trump’s hand in a vice-like grip, publicly snubbed him by swerving away to greet Angela Merkel first, cheekily repurposed the US President’s favourite slogan in the cause of climate change, and even made a public appeal to US scientists to move to France because of the Republican tycoon’s anti-science rhetoric.
And yet, there the French President was, giving a speech to the US Congress in Washington, on the first official state visit of the Trump presidency. In a tweet before the address, Trump said this was “a great honour and seldom allowed to be done … he will be GREAT!”
Somehow Macron seems to have managed to become Trump’s greatest critic, but also perhaps his greatest friend on the global stage and certainly within the European Union. Somehow, he’s become the world’s “Trump whisperer”.
Such is the apparent closeness of the two presidents that some commentators have been abuzz with talk of a bromance – even though Trump expressed support for the far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen during her campaign against Macron, saying she was “strongest on borders and the she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France”. In Macron’s speech yesterday, he did not hold back from criticising Trump in return for the “great honour” of addressing Congress.
On the Iran nuclear deal, climate change, protectionism and international relations, he urged the US to adopt very different stances to those espoused by Trump. While Trump has threatened to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, Macron said France would stay a signatory “because we signed it” and because Iran would not develop nuclear weapons. Tackling global warming was vital because “a better future for our children … requires offering them a planet that is still habitable in 25 years”. And to choose “isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism” would only “inflame the fears of our citizens”.
But amid such pointed remarks, Macron said France and the US should have a “very special relationship”, pinching and upgrading a phrase of great importance to the UK.
Theresa May has seemed reluctant to criticise Trump, probably because Brexit Britain will need a good trade deal with the US. This may have been a mistake. For just as Trump responds well to strength, he may look down on weakness.