Live from France: Mr. Macron Goes to Washington By Nathan Richmond
Trouble at Home
On Sunday, April 15, 2018 the French witnessed a prime-time television spectacle of President Macron being "interviewed" by two French journalists who were extremely disrespectful. The journalists repeatedly addressed him as "Emmanuel Macron" as if he was a naughty child, instead of addressing him respectfully as President Macron or Mr. Macron.
The interview came on the heels of the release of a book by former president François Hollande who was critical of President Macron and his policies. Hollande decried Macron for asking the French to endure "useless sacrifices."
President Macron's reform agenda has antagonized many segments of French society. From railway workers to university students, to hospital workers and retirees, French society is enduring strikes and protests, some violent, many disrupting critical services.
Headwinds in Europe
On Tuesday, April 17, 2018 President Macron addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg. With Britain leaving the European Union (EU) and Angela Merkel's government in Germany weakened by opposition to her immigration policies, President Macron has become the most forceful voice for Europe's future.
In his Strasbourg speech and previous speeches on the EU, Macron has laid out an ambitious agenda including establishing a joint Eurozone budget, creating a post for an EU finance minister, and creating a body tasked with overseeing bloc-wide economic policy. His proposals are not without significant opposition.
Some specifics from his Strasbourg speech included harsh criticism of countries abandoning democratic values and embracing authoritarianism such as in Hungary and in Poland, establishing a fund for refugee resettlement to go directly to localities accepting refugees, a new carbon tax to help fight climate change, a new tax on technology company revenues instead of profits, and the expansion of the Erasmus European-wide student exchange program.
President Macron strongly defended France's participation in the reprisal against Syria. And finally, taking direct aim at anti-EU parties such as France's National Front party, Macron told MEPs that if they didn't like the European Parliament, that they should run for some other office.
Mr. Macron Goes to Washington
On the eve of his departure for Washington, President Macron was interviewed in Paris by Chris Wallace of Fox News. In this extensive interview (in English) President Macron previewed his upcoming speech to the US Congress.
Macron strongly defended the missile strikes against Syria, was supportive of President Trump's policy toward North Korea, and was critical of President Trump's trade policies and approach toward Iran. He strongly defended his own reform agendas for France and the EU. (full interview here)
While President Trump has hosted numerous world leaders in Washington and Mar-a-Lago, President Macron's visit was the first state visit of the Trump presidency. Invited by Speaker Ryan to address a joint session of Congress, President Macron spoke in English on April 25, 2018. (full speech here)
Speaking for about an hour, President Macron reminded his audience that the history of France and the US is closely intertwined and that both countries share a commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights. Without France's help, the US would not have prevailed in its war for independence. And without American help in WWI and WWII, France would not be a free nation today. Both countries, he said, have paid a high price for their commitment to freedom and as a result have endured numerous terrorist attacks.
While advocating a multilateral approach to combating terrorism, President Macron went on to criticize President Trump's trade policies, his approach to Iran, and climate change. Without mentioning President Trump, he denounced deregulation, nationalism, and President Trump's "America First" agenda, urging instead that the US again embrace multilateralism to address the world's most pressing issues.
President Macron's speech was enthusiastically embraced, especially by Democratic member of Congress, but all members gave him a lengthy standing ovation. This contrasts sharply with the reception he has been receiving at home as he tries to modernize the French economy in the face of strong resistance by the French public.
Nathan Richmond is Professor of Government at Utica College