Macron asks Biden to apologize before real G20 work begins
After weeks of bitter recriminations, French President Emmanuel Macron has won a diplomatic victory over Joe Biden that he can take to the bank six months from an election.
On the eve of the Group of 20 summit in Rome, the US president admitted that his administration had been “clumsy” in managing a new defense pact with Australia and the United Kingdom. .
Macron will be dealing with the trio of English-speaking countries that have concocted a deal for the United States and the United Kingdom to supply Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, thereby crowding out French suppliers.
Biden, by far the most important leader of the three, was magnanimous. Eager to leave everything behind, he gave Macron what he needed to move forward so that Western allies could refocus their attention on America’s biggest concern: China.
In contrast, Macron appears to have little interest in reconnecting with Australian Scott Morrison, who was accused of failing to tell France about the bad news at the time. The two leaders spoke by phone this week but have no plans to meet at the top so far.
And then there is the United Kingdom, sometimes an enemy and friend of France over the centuries. Boris Johnson mocked Macron in the wake of the deal, telling him to ‘take a grip’, and now he’s embroiled in an all-out showdown over French access to fishing waters. Macron and Johnson could meet on Sunday.
On the plane to Rome, Johnson told reporters the two countries need to look past the trawler rights dispute because they have “bigger fish to whip”. The political provocation was undeniable.
Johnson was posing as a serious statesman, trying to strike a climate deal ahead of an international rally in Glasgow. And there was Macron, still simmering on the past. Will the 43-year-old French president bite the hook?
Macron has often presented himself as the one who rises above the fray. In this fight, the risk is that he will appear petty in the eyes of the public. Johnson has an unassailable majority in parliament and Macron is under attack from the far right as he prepares to run his re-election campaign.
In June, Macron and Johnson fought the “sausage war” at the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, over chilled meats being shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland. It was also the rally where Johnson, Biden and Morrison discussed their submarine deal without Macron’s knowledge.
It is an edifying account for the French president of the dangers of being drawn into the spat of the day. Right now it concerns the fishing rights of French fishermen in UK waters, which France says the UK is unfairly withholding. Paris threatened to take retaliatory action against Britain from Tuesday, including imposing checks on trucks coming from the UK. The stakes will be high when the two leaders meet on Sunday.
And despite the friendly body language, it’s not exactly kumbaya with Biden, either.
After being greeted by a smiling Macron with a pat on the shoulder, Biden stepped in and conceded that AUKUS “wasn’t done with much grace.”
Biden also said he “got the impression long before France was informed that the deal was not done.”
But the proof, as Macron himself said, is in the pudding.
Macron is awaiting American aid in the French-speaking Sahel region in Africa, where French forces are fighting an Islamist insurgency. France is also considering concrete partnerships with the United States on a wide range of issues, including nuclear energy, and supporting Macron’s push for stronger European defense.
France will set the European Union’s agenda when it takes on its rotating presidency in January.
In the end, Germany will have a new Chancellor, after 16 years under the constant leadership of Angela Merkel. And Macron himself will have been reelected or removed from power.
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