Macron and Trump meet amid European defence row

Vincent Kessler, REUTERS | French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes US President Donald Trump at the Elysee Palace in Paris on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the First World War on November 10, 2018.

US President Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron agreed on Saturday on the need for more European defence spending, papering over an earlier Trump tweet that had described Macron’s call for a European army as “very insulting”.


Trump and Macron shook hands on the steps of the Élysée Palace and Trump gave a thumbs-up sign before the two entered talks, during which they will attempt to defuse differences over European defence among other issues.

No sooner had Trump touched down in Paris than he fired off a tweet castigating his host over proposals to endow the EU with its own army.

“President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the US, China and Russia,” the US president tweeted late Friday, referring to remarks made by Macron three days earlier.

“Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidises greatly!,” he added.

Macron had welcomed Trump under rainy Parisian skies with a firm handshake. But there appeared to be less immediate warmth in the greeting between the two than in the past.

Seated on gilded chairs in the ornate Élysée Palace, Macron placed his hand on Trump’s knee and referred to him as “my friend”, while Trump kept more distance, although he also talked up common ground on an issue that had caused friction.

“We want a strong Europe, it’s very important to us, and whichever way we can do it the best and more efficient would be something we both want,” said Trump.

“We want to help Europe but it has to be fair. Right now the burden sharing has been largely on the United States.”

Macron echoed those sentiments, saying he wanted Europe to bear a greater share of the defence costs within NATO, a point he has made repeatedly since taking office, alongside his ambitions for Europe to have its own military capability.

“That’s why I do believe my proposals for European defence are totally consistent with that,” Macron said in English.

European military force

Trump's tweet about Macron’s EU defence proposals referred to the French leader’s call in an interview Tuesday for a “real European army”.

In the radio interview, Macron said a joint European Union military force was needed to wean Europe off American might, not least after Trump announced he was pulling out of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty.

Referring also to cyber meddling in elections in the West, he said: “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States.”

Macron’s office on Saturday acknowledged that his remarks “could create confusion” but stressed: “He never said we need a European army against the United States.”

On Saturday morning Trump was in more conciliatory form.

“I am in Paris getting ready to celebrate the end of World War One. Is there anything better to celebrate than the end of a war, in particular that one, which was one of the bloodiest and worst of all time?”, he tweeted.

A weekend of armistice commemorations

The US leader and his wife Melania are on their second visit to Paris since July 2017 when Trump was Macron’s guest of honour at Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.

The row over European defence came at the start of a weekend of commemorations to be attended by 70 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Trump has, however, ducked out of a peace conference Sunday, which Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel intend to use as a platform for promoting multilateralism.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters in Paris on Friday the president had “a lot of pressing issues” to attend to.

Trump and Macron struck up a warm relationship initially, particularly during the US leader’s first visit to Paris, but have repeatedly clashed since over a growing list of issues, including Trump pulling America out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

Macron has repeatedly called for the EU to build up its defence capabilities in view of Trump’s demands that the EU shoulder more of the financial burden for ensuring its own security.

While a nine-country European rapid reaction force, independent from NATO, is under discussion, proposals for a full EU army with a joint command remain deeply sensitive.

The WWI commemorations come at a watershed moment for the liberal post-war order, with anti-immigration populists at the helm in the US and Brazil, sharing power in Italy, and making strong gains in Germany, prompting Merkel to announce she is bowing out in 2021.

Macron met British Prime Minister Theresa May near the Belgian border Friday to try to make progress on a Brexit deal and remember the fallen on the battlefields of the Somme.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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