April 2018

By Mathilde Defarges and Jeremiah J. Baronberg

On April 23-25, 2018, U.S. President Trump will host French President Emmanuel Macron for a “state visit,” the highest ranking visit of a foreign leader to the United States. State visits in the U.S.—which can only be offered to a chief of state at the invitation of the U.S. president—are considered the highest expression of friendly bilateral relations and are characterized by an emphasis on official public ceremonies.

The two leaders spoke by phone to discuss the upcoming visit, while noting their shared commitment to defeat ISIS (Daech, in French) in Iraq and Syria, including Macron's emphasis on coordinating actions through the international coalition. 

As the first such occasion since Trump took office in January 2017, President Macron’s U.S. visit will include a joint news conference and a state dinner as well as private dinner hosted by President Trump at George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan has also invited Macron to address a joint session of Congress on April 25.

The significance of President Trump’s invitation to Mr. Macron comes after Trump was hosted in France last year by Macron as the honored guest for the country’s most important national holiday, the annual Bastille Day military parade along the Champs-Elysées in Paris. The 2017 parade commemorated the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I and included participation by both nations’ armed forces in an homage to French-American cooperation. President Trump was clearly impressed by the parade, noting his desire to hold a similar style military procession in the U.S. Afterwards, Macron said, “Mr. Trump’s presence at my side is a sign of an enduring friendship, and I want to thank him. Nothing can ever separate us…I want to thank America for the choice made 100 years ago.”

Much has since been made of the apparent bond and special rapport shared by the two presidents, who are said to speak by phone frequently. While their views on fundamental matters of substance and policy don’t always mesh (Paris climate agreement, Iran deal, trade), their discussions have been frank and President Trump has called their friendship “unbreakable.” As a U.S. observer recently noted: “Macron has succeeded where all others have failed, managing to criticize U.S. policies without becoming the latest Twitter target. In Trump’s eyes, Emmanuel seems to do no wrong.”

The specific agenda items for discussion during Macon’s visit have not been outlined, yet certain potential topics may prove controversial. Much has been made recently of Macron’s targeting of large tech companies to pay more taxes on profits earned in Europe—the so-called “GAFA” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) taxation announced in conjunction with Germany. Trump has also targeted companies such as Amazon, saying it does not pay enough taxes. Macron is likely to use his address to Congress to raise such issues as the Paris climate agreement and concerns over the threat of trade wars (remember that Macron has met previously with U.S. Governors to attract states to support the Paris agreement).

For Trump, high on the list is his May 12 deadline for extending the Iran nuclear deal, reflected by several rounds of negotiations being conducted by U.S. State Department officials with France as well as with the UK and Germany, the so-called E3. Addressing U.S. and EU concerns over China’s trade practices may also play a role in discussions, while both sides may envision different strategies in this arena.

As has been his style after each foreign visit, President Macron is likely to make a public announcement to communicate what he feels will have been the direct results for France. In this respect, it is to be expected that he will endeavor to return home from his U.S. visit having achieved a significant outcome. Macron’s focus recently has been on attracting foreign investment and strategies to accelerate innovation, including investing 1.5 billion euros into research on artificial intelligence (AI), following concerns that France has fallen behind the U.S. and China.

We’ve noted before that this is a crucial time for the United States, Europe, and the Transatlantic partnership. With our shared history, democratic values, and traditional political-military ties, the French-American alliance is critical to this future. Let’s watch how the two countries’ leaders chart this course forward.

We’ll revisit this topic with further analysis and a debrief following the state visit.