French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both visited the United States last week, in two separate trips that showed the European leaders taking very different stances from those of U.S. President Donald Trump on issues ranging from trade to climate change to the liberal international order.
Current EU-U.S. bilateral relations have been strained in major issue areas since President Trump took the helm of the U.S. Government last year. America under Trump, for example, is taking a more protectionist stance on trade. The U.S. imposed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum in March, providing only temporary exemptions for some allies, including the EU, until May 1.
“We need a free and fair trade, for sure,” Macron said in a speech to the U.S. Congress on April 25. “A commercial war opposing allies is not consistent with our mission, with our history, with our current commitments for global security.”
Merkel, in a joint news conference with Trump on April 27, said, “We want a trade that is in line with the multilateral trading system of WTO [World Trade Organisation].”
As the May 1 deadline for steel and aluminum tariffs approached, Trump postponed the imposition of tariffs on the EU, Canada, and Mexico until June 1 to continue negotiations. “In all of these negotiations, the administration is focused on quotas that will restrain imports, prevent transshipment, and protect the national security,” the White House said.
Trump also continues to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, while the EU recently updated its free trade agreement with Mexico, showing the bloc’s willingness to step into any free trade void the U.S. may leave in its wake.
On other policy issues, like climate change, the divergent views between the Europeans and the U.S. were also made clear in the late April visits. In his address to Congress, Macron stressed that global action on climate change is vital because there in “no Planet B.” He urged the U.S. to reenter the Paris Climate Agreement, a worldwide accord to reduce carbon emissions that Trump pulled out of in June 2017.
“We must find a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy, because what is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet,” Macron said.
Despite not touching on the issue of global warming during her one-day visit to the U.S., Germany has long been a global leader in the fight against anthropogenic climate change. Merkel has long made clear her views on the importance of multilateralism, especially in regards to global issues like climate change.
Macron, who was in the U.S. on a three-day state visit, did take the opportunity to espouse the importance of multilateralism – in contrast to Trump’s nationalistic approach to world affairs.
“We can build the 21st century world order based on a new breed of multilateralism, based on a more effective, accountable, and result-oriented multilateralism,” he said. “The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism. You’re the ones now who have to help to preserve and reinvent it.”
While deviating significantly on many major policy issues, Macron – along with Merkel – is working hard to try to build on the relationship with the U.S. and overcome differences of opinion. “We both know that none of us easily changes our minds,” he said in a toast at the state dinner on April 24, “but we will work together, and we have this ability to listen to one another.”
A silver lining to America’s more recent protectionist policies is that the EU can continue to fill the leadership void in the global arena.