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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Donald Trump in Paris: Emmanuel Macron woos the US president over dinner

The president of France has urged Donald Trump to curb his American First instincts in dealing with Europe, writes Damien McElroy

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and U.S. President Donald Trumps shake hands as they attend a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and U.S. President Donald Trumps shake hands as they attend a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)

With lobster on the menu and a panoramic view over Paris from the Eiffel Tower on a summer evening, Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, tonight will try to woo Donald Trump, urging the US leader to curb his American First instincts in dealing with Europe.

The two day trip has seen Mr Trump mark America’s entry into the First World War, visit the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, hold a summit with Macron and then will take dinner at the Paris landmark. Mr Trump and his wife Melania, who was dressed in a pillar-box red outfit on arrival, will tomorrow review the military parade for the French national day before returning home.

Beyond the ceremonial, Mr Macron has a point to prove. With the British absorbed in the complex, stuttering process of leaving the European Union, there is a vacancy for the role of European interlocutor with Washington.

While Germany is the European powerhouse, Mr Trump and Angela Merkel have frosty personal relations. The 39-year old ex-banker who became French president in May has stepped into the void.

“France, oldest ally of the US (1778!) is happy and proud to welcome @POTUS to commemorate the entry of the US into WW1 on its side,” wrote Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to Washington in a Twitter storm to mark Mr Trump’s touchdown. “Great symbolism of this day for @EmmanuelMacron when meeting Merkel and then @POTUS : France in the EU and in our transatlantic alliance.”

Mr Trump was in Europe just last week at the G20 summit in Hamburg where he met with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The US president told an interviewer that he had made “a deal” with Mr Putin in setting up a southwest Syrian ceasefire zone. Tonight Mr Trump indicated that plans to step up the ceasefire zone were imminent.

While all sides would welcome more peace making in Syria, Europe is wary of Mr Trump's talks with Mr Putin, who is viewed as a hostile force. By gaining better relations with Mr Trump, the French leader hopes to head off any more surprises somewhere further down the line.

That would require a leap of faith by two men who have very different outlooks. The youthful centrist French leader likes to compare himself to the Roman God Jupiter who flashed thunderbolts from the sky. Mr Trump views himself as the tribune of the unshaven ordinary man who uses Twitter often and uncompromisingly to castigate his doubters. “In the Trump-Macron relationship, opposites attract,” Denis Lacorne told the New York Times. “Macron has positions much closer to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He’s a pluralist. He’s got a world vision that’s exactly the opposite of Trump’s.”

The Europeans appear to have already lost the battle to cajole Mr Trump back into the global warming arrangement known as the Paris Accord. During a news conference this evening, Mr Trump made a non-committal statement on his current position on the issue: "Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord... We'll see what happens."

At the public events, the pair appeared to gel well, speaking animatedly and exchanging signals of bonhomie at another tomb - that of Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander of French forces in 1917. “Trump and Macron spoke and gestured to each other,” wrote the US reporter covering the visit. “Trump pointed to the tomb a few times. Macron at one point punched his hand into his fist to make a point.”

As the two men later sat in the gilted reception rooms of the Elysee Palace for head-to-head talks, Mr Trump and Mr Macron were expected to agree on intensifying the fight against Isil and stronger diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.

At their fourth meeting in just two months, the presidents were also expected to exchange views on Mr Trump’s agenda for fairer trade between the world economy’s biggest players.

Beset by the controversy over Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a Russian lawyer offering the Kremlin’s help to defeat Mrs Clinton in the 2016 election, Mr Trump needs the ceremonial events to glow back home in the US. Pleased to be able to grant Mr Trump a protest-free visit - the Bastille Day holiday has deterred the troublemakers of the ilk that wrecked Hamburg - the French are happy to oblige their guest.

“The main objective is to show our strong friendship over the years and that despite differences we remain close allies,” said Emmanuelle Lachaussée, a spokeswoman for the French embassy in Washington.

The most significant business of the day for Mr Macron therefore may well have been a German/French cabinet meeting with Mrs Merkel, which broke up just as the US leader arrived. At a news conference afterwards, the German leader made a significant gesture to the French by conceding that the eurozone could start talks on the establishment of its own finance minister.

Germany has resisted the move throughout the financial crisis, fearing that it would be forced to bankroll the weaker economies in the currency area. Berlin also worried the post would lead to a loosening of fiscal rules as politicians looked to the state to solve economic problems.

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