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Europe

Opinion: Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump - the lion and the fox

One might scoff that receiving Donald Trump in Paris is ingratiating. But DW's Catherine Martens says the whole of the EU may well profit from Emmanuel Macron's approach.

It is a hell of a tight rope act, no doubt. It is possible that the move could go horribly wrong. There is a razor thin line between embarrassing political sliminess and a successfully completed trans-Atlantic feat of daring. Is France so desperate that it needs to play the political suck-up to a man that recently described Paris as a "hellhole?" Does the "Grande Nation" seriously mean to tell the world that it understands Trump? Must French President Emmanuel Macron - with his own tendency to cast himself in the limelight - really pal around with every ostracized political urchin on the international stage? How does that make Europe look? Is Macron running the risk of crushing the tender blossom of European self-confidence (We can take care of ourselves without the US!) with such presidential chumminess? And the brazenness with which he is presenting himself as the new leader of Europe, even though no one asked him to do so. What insolence! No, the Trump-Macron bromance is an abomination. It is beneath France, and certainly beneath Europe.

Sulking is not an option

Really? Not in the least. Pride is always poor counsel in politics - false pride even more so. France, and yes, Europe, must stake out their positions in dealing with this new US administration. And they certainly do not want that position to be in the corner and sulking. Trump is here. It makes no difference whether Europe tries to buck him or not. In light of the complexity of world affairs, neither France nor the rest of Europe can afford to sit back and make fun of the utter lack of political tact that the new US president displays on a daily basis. And listen up critics: That is not even the point. Somehow, Europe and France always find a way to deal with everyone. But when it comes to politics, muddling through is not enough, one needs to deploy symbols and messages in order to arrive at a level that lies, indeed must lie, beyond everyday politics. Nations are the sum of their histories, and they all have their founding myths.

Martens, Catherine app photo

Catherine Martens is DW's European correspondent

And that is exactly how Macron is attempting to reach Trump. He is pointing out that: "Hey, we, not us as individuals (definitely not!), but our nations, have a common history. And, what a heavy history it is! Remember World War I!" Visiting the tomb of Napoleon, French and US troops marching down the Champs Elysee - Macron has recognized Trump's soft spot. And recognized that this is the way to get to him. And that is the point. Macron wants to move forward. And at this point the concept can be awarded a bit of premature praise, as naive as that may be: Progress must be made in Syria, in the fight against terror and on the topic of climate change - that is what this is all about. That is all difficult enough to achieve, but one thing is sure, it has a much better chance of happening with trans-Atlantic cooperation than without. Thus, Macron has shown himself to be a pragmatist. And anyone looking at the big picture will quickly see: Many of the problems that the world currently faces will turn into endless and grueling political impasses if the US is not engaged at all.

Don't cede the field to Theresa May   

Those content with dishing out snarky and dire predictions are no better than the oft-criticized US president himself. But France and Europe must be better than that. One EU member state found Europe so pitiful that it wants to leave in the very near future. Has that already been forgotten? That is what political reality looks like here. Should France and Europe stand on the sidelines with their arms crossed as they watch Theresa May cobble together a new "special trans-Atlantic relationship?" No!

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Trump, US troops in Paris for Bastille Day

Europe must prove its greatness, despite Trump. Scurrilous insults during the presidential campaign? That is beneath us. We are even going to invite you to our super cool party on July 14. Of course you can bring your toys, no problem. That is Macron's political calculus - to remind Donald Trump and the US of the big picture. To remind them of the things that bind both countries, beyond election campaigns and political mudslinging. And - pay attention here! - beyond this century.

The strength of the lion and the cunning of the fox

Granted, that all sounds big-headed. But it holds a certain surplus political value: Showing strength without having to be confrontational. En passant, so to say. Emmanuel Macron is a product of his country. Every French schoolchild learns a valuable lesson from Machiavelli: Namely the idea that a smart leader must possess the attributes of two beasts  - the lion and the fox. The powerful lion cannot survive alone, he needs the clever cunning of the fox to "recognize traps," and the fox, too, is dependent upon the power of the lion "to frighten off wolves." The cunning trick of convincing the US of Europe's strength and its new self-confidence is the military pomp and the historical bling-bling show. Therefore, the whole should be warmly welcomed rather than simply accepted.

Regardless of Trump - the most important thing right now is to ensure that trans-Atlantic relations don't run completely off the rails. At the least, Macron's decision to use the crazy and unpredictable policies of President Trump as a chance to get close to him could be seen as prudent. Former French President Francois Mitterrand was not the only politician convinced that, "you have to kiss your enemy in order to get close enough to strangle him." In the worst case, Emmanuel Macron will come off as a dumb sycophant. In the best case, France will have reestablished its profile on the world stage. And Europe can also profit by self-confidently setting the international political agenda. Macron is willing to take that risk. And rightly so.

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