With Trump, the Interests of Allies are Rarely Considered
Last month, Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer gave an extensive interview to the French publication L’Hémicycle, a weekly magazine featuring policy analysis and coverage of international affairs. In her interview, Dr. de Hoop Scheffer discussed President Macron’s relationship with President Trump, the growing threat of Russian aggression, and the future of European defense cooperation.
Dr. de Hoop Scheffer gave an overview of Franco-American relations, beginning with the tensions which have historically characterized the Washington-Paris axis. From Chirac’s disagreements with Clinton over Kosovo, to Sarkozy and Obama’s differing stances on Libya, the two powers have rarely seen eye-to-eye, particularly when it comes to military intervention overseas.
However, Dr. de Hoop Scheffer was also keen to emphasize France’s pragmatic approach to the United States: Despite rarely aligning itself with the U.S. position, France has been a steadfast ally, all the more so with President Macron at the helm.
The burgeoning relationship between Macron and Trump marks a new chapter in Franco-American relations. Dr. de Hoop Scheffer recalled how, during her visits to the U.S. in 2017, American officials commented approvingly on Macron’s ability to “manage” the president. The personal affinity between the American and French premiers has also been nurtured by the political environment: given the U.K.’s preoccupation with Brexit and Germany’s chaotic domestic situation, France looks like it could take the U.K.’s place in the “special relationship.”
However, Dr. de Hoop Scheffer did note that disagreement surrounding the Iran agreement, climate change, and trade could well threaten the Macron-Trump double. Until now, Macron has made good use of diplomacy and even bypassed the White House entirely on the issue of climate change in order to keep relations warm.
Nevertheless, these solutions may not work long term. Dr. de Hoop Scheffer pointed out that Macron’s reputation stands to suffer if he cooperates too closely with the Trump administration. By the same token, diplomatic strategies may hit a wall when confronted with hawkish figures such as Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.
Regarding Russia, Dr. de Hoop Scheffer noted that it was the decision-making structures in Washington that were most likely to be divided on the question of sanctions and heightened Russian aggressions. However, Russia also poses a threat to European unity, due to the varying extents to which EU member states rely on Russia for energy and help in solving the Syrian crisis.
Finally, Dr. de Hoop Scheffer underlined the fact that Trump’s election may well hasten European defense cooperation. This past year, the EU has made many encouraging steps toward defense integration, including the European Defense Fund and the European Intervention Initiative. Despite the fact that some U.S. officials have expressed concerns that these initiatives might overlap with or undermine NATO efforts, Dr. de Hoop Scheffer was clear that this was a positive step forward for European defense. All that remains is for Europe to reassure Americans by convincing them that a strong and autonomous Europe is in the interest of all NATO members.