Emmanuel Macron cements his position as the voice of Europe after lavish meeting with Joe Biden

France likes to play its historic role as the first ally of the nascent United States. Their friendship was forged during their revolutions in the late 18th century, and their respective cries for freedom resonated all over the world.

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron returned to this old alliance when he spoke alongside his US counterpart Joe Biden on the South Lawn of the White House.

“The United States and France – the strongest allies – are there because our relationship is rooted in centuries,” he said, building a bridge to their common cause in Ukraine.

“It is our common destiny to respond together to these challenges – true to our history, clear about our world, and determined to generate hope.”

Mr Macron’s rhetoric has been characteristically florid, but it reflects his position as the primus inter pares of European leaders when it comes to the US.

His pompous trip to Washington is his second state visit, and the first of Mr Biden’s presidency – although they have met regularly this year, most recently at the G20 in Bali, Indonesia.

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TOPSHOT - French President Emmanuel Macron toasts US President Joe Biden during a state dinner on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, December 1, 2022. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden toasted each other at a lavish state dinner (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty)

Re-elected in April, Mr. Macron focused on foreign policy during his second term, partly because of the war in Ukraine.

However, he has risen to the challenge, working with Mr Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and even Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Macron’s energy and charm as well as his detailed understanding of the political and economic implications of the war mean he is ideally placed to cheer EU leaders as they have responded by imposing sanctions, reorganizing their energy policy, the influx of Ukrainian refugees manage and arms to Kyiv.

While some saw Mr Macron as naive earlier this year when he tried to talk Mr Putin out of his invasion plans, his diplomatic efforts were on the express instructions of Mr Zelensky.

And if a negotiated solution is to emerge, he will probably be the channel.

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France’s unique political and military position means that it has become the voice of Europe in this crisis, far ahead of, for example, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz or EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The ceremonies surrounding his state visit — which included a visit to Arlington Military Cemetery, a private dinner with the Bidens, cannon volleys and a review of the troops, and a state dinner — seemed to confirm his status.

The veteran US diplomat Henry Kissinger used to ask who he should call if he wanted to talk to Europe.

In the White House, Mr. Macron offered the answer, overriding US-France relations, and representing Europe instead.

More open Emmanuel Macron

“Seen from Paris, Washington singles out the French president as a preferred partner in Europe,” said Sophia Besch, a fellow at the nonpartisan Washington-based think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

That’s not to say he was entirely aligned with Mr. Biden during the trip. In fact, he arrived with a bone to pick: the $369 billion US climate change bill, which was signed into law last August.

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EU countries complain that the green subsidies for technologies such as electric vehicles contain protectionist ‘Buy America’ provisions.

But his complaints about the “super-aggressive” stance had an effect: Mr. Biden suggested on Thursday that European companies could benefit from a controversial package.

“There are tweaks we can make that will fundamentally make it easier for European countries to participate,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Macron did not only speak for Europe and the United States.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday after the French baguette was added to the United Nations’ list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, he delivered a paean to the crunchy piece of baked goods as an embodiment of the spirit of French savoir-faire.

“This ‘French touch’ that we have in our baguette is the one that we have in other sectors: It is this additional know-how, this extra soul,” he said.

He could talk about himself.

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