Rayhan Ahmed Topader:
What is it about world leaders and their obsession with male grooming products?
Tony Blair’s friendship with new President George W Bush was sealed at Camp David with a conversation about their choice of toothpaste.Donald Trump, an expert on hair applications, flicked the dandruff off the shoulders of Emmanuel Macron during his visit to the White House.It was just one of many physical signs of the bromance between the two Presidents as they held hands, pecked each other’s cheeks, slapped each other’s backs and kissed the proffered hands of their glamorous wives.Britain looked on like the cheated partner as Mr Trump described his French counterpart as his “special friend” and described the two countries as each other’s “oldest allies”.Trump’s America and Brexit Britain were supposed to be inseparable partners in touch with popular anger about remote global elites and partners in the crusade against globalisation.That’s what Theresa May intended when she rushed to meet Mr Trump in his first week in office with the promise of a full state visit; that’s what Boris Johnson was thinking as he headed off to Trump Tower to cosy up to fellow Right-wing populist Steve Bannon.Now it’s the Marseillaise being played on the White House lawn, and it’s the self-appointed French leader of the liberal internationalist world order who has the ear of the President.He used it to good effect, using his visit to try to corral the US President into a new international nuclear deal with Iran.
Donald Trump hints at new nuclear deal with Iran as he hosts Macron.Mr Trump is attracted to power, and Monsieur Macron exudes it.For back home, it looks like our economic policy is being written by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who killed off months of Downing Street work on a customs partnership with the EU by calling it cretinous; while our foreign policy with our neighbours like Ireland is being dictated by a tiny number of DUP MPs, who today threatened “to bring down the Government” unless they got their way on the Irish border issue.Everything about Monsieur Macron says, “L’état, c’est moi”. Who is in charge of the British state is less clear.Taking Donald Trump seriously has paid off for Emmanuel Macron on the global stage.Macron is positioning France as a country that can take second place behind America in interventions.Some robust French curses must have raced through President Macron’s mind as he was required to listen to a broadside against the Iran nuclear deal by Donald Trump in Washington this week, followed by a bout of gorilla grooming. Let me get this little bit of dandruff is not a line prominent in diplomatic handbooks when it comes to putting a foreign guest at ease.But the sting of Trump’s remark was about making Macron perfect he is perfect was an impish jibe at the French leader’s neatness and touch of vanity. But the French president can afford a dose of sang-froid about his Washington excursion .For all the pawing and preening at his expense,
Trump has effectively crowned Macron as the one-man answer to the sly question long ago put by Henry Kissinger about Europe namely, whom he should call if he wished to speak to Europe.Macron, in return, has crowned himself Europe’s negotiator-in-chief on the faltering Iran deal, waiving sanctions in return for Iran not pursuing its nuclear programme. As Trump is determined to tear up the Obama-era deal when it comes up for renewal next month, Macron has shrewdly made himself the co-sponsor of any new deal and the master of shuttle diplomacy with Tehran. That is a calculated edging out of Britain, which helped bring about the original deal but also a more daring bid to lead Europe in global diplomacy. Macron has paid Trump the compliment of taking him seriously and it has paid off.The sequencing of putting Macron’s visit a few days ahead of Angela Merkel’s turn is not accidental it is meant to show the Trump presidency had noted the cold shoulder offered by Merkel and inverted the order of precedence given to Germany and France accordingly. Macron knows being seen alongside Trump offers new chances for France. Macron is a nifty hybrid, exporting a blend of political styles and motives. His Right-ish side sees opportunities to shake off the moribund reputation of France as stuck in the big-state era, a claim underpinned by facing down public sector strikes.
At the same time as defending the liberal values of openness, he has just presided over a tough asylum and immigration bill, which will enable France to make some of the quickest decisions on removals of failed asylum seekers on the continent.The mix of idealism and a knowing nod to opinion on the French Right increase his chances of survival in office. And Brexit has offered the Macron government competitive opportunities he is keen to exploit. On a recent trip to India, the French president encouraged talented Indian students to consider France as their primary destination, citing his country as the “door to Europe”.Macron is not as personally dismayed as Merkel by Brexit : he just sees it as an opportunity to pitch for a greater role for France. Before he was a politician, Macron was a sharp-elbowed banker, and it shows.To the fatigued repertory company of European politicians, purveying the same old nostrums, he adds energy and palpable appetite to succeed. That is another reason why Trump, who has a ruthlessly keen nose for a winner, is betting on his new French friend. Reality checks are, however, called for. An ambitious European reform agenda already looks more like a series of partial measures than a grand re-imagining of 21st-century Europe. Only a year ago, Macron was envisaging a wider system of fiscal transfers to rebalance the eurozone. The outcome now looks more like a modest “investment budget”.”Macron is positioning France as a country that can take second place behind America in interventions”
By June, France and Germany must agree a reform plan, which few in Brussels or Berlin think will look substantial.
That is no great trial for Merkel, but it will show up some of the limitations Macron is encountering in seeking to remake the EU. “Too far, too fast,” is the crisp verdict of one Merkel ally. It might comfort British politicians, wrestling with the impossibility of delivering a Brexit that cannot satisfy divergent views of national interest, to find that the Franco-German relationship relies on affinities that wax and wane. But Macron is too canny to place all his eggs in the euro-basket. Reviving French sway outside Europe offsets some of these problems. He has bonded personally with Trump, suggesting that they are both “mavericks” (albeit of opposed instincts), and re-asserted French influence in the Middle East (via a diplomatic intervention in a government crisis in Lebanon) and in Africa. In terms of Britain’s standing, the impact has been most obvious in the recent Syria intervention, attacking Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons capability. For all the parliamentary excitement it generated in Britain, the UK’s role was minimal. A senior source in the armed forces confirms the French government was determined to ensure that it conducted substantially more strikes than Britain. Macron is positioning France as a country that can take second place behind America in interventions that test political nerve and ability to pull together a fast response. At the same time, Macron’s can be a strikingly elastic creed when it comes to dealing with the grand autocracies of Russia or China.
While France backed the British position of blaming Russia for the poisoning of the Skripals, Macron has laid less blame at Vladimir Putin’s door than the UK or Germany.
Since President Trump, by virtue of his own misjudgments on dealing with Russia in the election campaign and ensuing enquiries, is not in a position to deepen contact with an increasingly secretive Kremlin, Macron has moved into that slot, discussing Syria and Ukraine in person with Putin, rather than relying on diplomatic channels. Putting France back on the global stage is both a sign of Macron’s self-confidence and his appetite for a long stay in the Elysée. Its risks are over-extension, incoherence and a tendency for fresh thinking to revert to traditional calculations of raison d’état. His China policy has veered sharply from the rhetoric of protecting French jobs from imbalanced trade from the East, to a charm offensive that included presenting the leadership with a horse from the presidential cavalry corps and all the trappings. French opponents joke about “two show ponies” dominating French politics. But le style Macron is never dull.
Writer and Columnist