Macron Defends Rules-Based Pacific Order, Five Stars Call for New Elections

French president Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of a guest outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, July 6, 2017
French president Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of a guest outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, July 6, 2017 (World Bank/Ibrahim Ajaja)

During a visit to Sydney, French president Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to work with the largest democracies in the region — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — to “balance” Chinese power and protect “rule-based development” in Asia.

“It’s important… not to have any hegemony in the region,” he said.

Australia has eyed accommodation with China since Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2017. But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, speaking alongside Macron, insisted his country is still committed to preserving a rules-based order.

France is a Pacific power. It has around one million citizens in the region. Read more “Macron Defends Rules-Based Pacific Order, Five Stars Call for New Elections”

Rutte Survives Tax Debacle, Middle America Not Doing So Badly

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in parliament in The Hague, November 13, 2012
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in parliament in The Hague, November 13, 2012 (Rijksoverheid)

The Netherlands’ Mark Rutte has been reprimanded by opposition parties for failing to disclose memos to parliament about internal government deliberations over the repeal of a business tax.

Rutte claimed he had not been aware of the papers, which were drafted by the Finance Ministry during the formation of his current government. The four parties in his coalition, which have a one-seat majority, accepted this explanation. All opposition parties but one voted to censure him.

Rutte surprised other parties by eliminating the dividend tax when he returned to power in October. Repeal had not been part of his election program. The suspicion in The Hague is that Rutte’s former employer, Unilever, and Royal Dutch Shell — two of the Netherlands’ largest companies — lobbied him to eliminate the tax. Read more “Rutte Survives Tax Debacle, Middle America Not Doing So Badly”

Merkel Eclipsed by Macron, Mistaking Trump’s Lies for Authenticity

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13, 2017 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Der Spiegel laments that Angela Merkel is allowing Emmanuel Macron to take the lead in Europe.

The left-leaning weekly has complained for years that Merkel isn’t bold and visionary enough, but they have a point this time: Macron has seduced both eurocrats in Brussels and Donald Trump in Washington while Merkel’s authority in Berlin has been significantly reduced by a disappointing election result in September.

Also read Nicholas Vinocur in Politico on the French leader’s transatlantic ambitions:

Macron is determined to restore France’s greatness and Trump’s friendship elevates Paris as a nuclear power with a seat on the United Nations Security Council at a time when Britain — usually Washington’s preferred ally — is sidelined by the Brexit process.

Read more “Merkel Eclipsed by Macron, Mistaking Trump’s Lies for Authenticity”

Macron’s Priorities for Trump Meeting, Tillerson’s Disastrous Tenure at State

Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States speak in Paris, July 14, 2017
Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States speak in Paris, July 14, 2017 (DoD/Dominique Pineiro)

Emmanuel Macron is due to meet his American counterpart, Donald Trump, in Washington DC next week. Erik Brattberg and Philippe Le Corre write in The National Interest that he will have four priorities:

  1. Staking out a common stance on Syria.
  2. Preserving European exemptions from Trump’s tariffs by pushing for a transatlantic trade agreement.
  3. Convincing Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
  4. Changing Trump’s mind on climate change.

#1 seems doable. #2, who knows? Signs for #3 are ominous. White House officials have been leaking to reporters that, this time, Trump is serious about blowing up the nuclear agreement. #4 seems impossible. Read more “Macron’s Priorities for Trump Meeting, Tillerson’s Disastrous Tenure at State”

Merkel Presents Alternative Eurozone Plan, Erdoğan Calls Early Elections

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a news conference in Berlin, March 24, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

Angela Merkel’s response to Emmanuel Macron’s EU reform push is to beef up the Eurogroup: the regular conclave of finance ministers from the nineteen countries that use the single currency. Merkel would add economy ministers to the meetings and expand the Eurogroup’s remit to include all areas of economic policy.

Mehreen Khan argues in the Financial Times that it’s a good way to sabotage eurozone reform: “you effectively hollow out decisionmaking power and create a glorified talking shop.”

I think that’s an exaggeration, but Merkel and Macron do have different priorities.

The former, backed by a Dutch-led alliance of liberal member states, calls for structural reforms to boost competitiveness in the south. Macron argues for investments to promote convergence.

The end goal is the same, but the way they would get there is very different: Merkel puts the onus on the laggards while Macron argues for a shared responsibility. Hence his push for a common eurozone budget and a European finance minister. Read more “Merkel Presents Alternative Eurozone Plan, Erdoğan Calls Early Elections”

Macron’s German Challenge, What America Should Attempt in Syria

French president Emmanuel Macron gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 17
French president Emmanuel Macron gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 17 (European Parliament)

Eric Maurice writes in EUobserver that French president Emmanuel Macron’s biggest challenges comes from Berlin, where Angela Merkel and her conservative party are skeptical of plans to create a European Monetary Fund and establish a European deposit insurance scheme to protect savers:

Although the two plans were initiated by the EU before Macron took them, their rejection would signal a clear rebuttal of the French president’s more ambitious proposals for the longer term.

Merkel hasn’t ruled out a European Monetary Fund, but — like the Dutch and other deficit hawks in the north of Europe — she wants it to be an “intergovernmental”, as opposed to an EU-led, institution.

Germany isn’t in favor of creating a eurozone budget and finance minister either.

I predicted in September that these would be the most difficult items on Macron’s wishlist, but other things are still doable: harmonizing corporate tax rates and asylum procedures, creating an EU military intervention force, reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. Read more “Macron’s German Challenge, What America Should Attempt in Syria”

Macron Marches On, China Retaliates in Trade War

Austrian chancellor Christian Kern and French president Emmanuel Macron visit Salzburg, August 23, 2017
Austrian chancellor Christian Kern and French president Emmanuel Macron visit Salzburg, August 23, 2017 (BKA/Andy Wenzel)

The moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT) has joined the hardline General Confederation of Labor (CGT) in weekly strikes against a proposed overhaul of the state railway company, yet President Emmanuel Macron shows no sign of budging.

Most French voters support his effort to end generous employment terms for new — not existing — rail workers, including automatic pay rises and early retirement.

That may change as travelers are exposed to frequent disruptions, but, as I argued here the other week, falling popularity is unlikely to keep Macron up at night. He has four years left for his reforms to start bearing fruit and there is no unified opposition against him. Read more “Macron Marches On, China Retaliates in Trade War”

Falling Popularity Won’t Keep Macron Up at Night

French president Emmanuel Macron attends a military remembrance ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris, May 15, 2017
French president Emmanuel Macron attends a military remembrance ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris, May 15, 2017 (Facebook)

Emmanuel Macron’s popularity has fallen to its lowest point yet, with only one in four French voters supporting him anymore.

It probably won’t keep the president up at night. He still has four years left for his reforms to start bearing fruit while there is no unified opposition against him. Read more “Falling Popularity Won’t Keep Macron Up at Night”

Trump Agrees to Meet Kim, Trans Pacific Partnership Continues Without Him

Presidents Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Donald Trump of the United States meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, October 2, 2017
Presidents Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Donald Trump of the United States meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, October 2, 2017 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Donald Trump has accepted an invitation from Kim Jong-un to meet one-on-one. It would be the first time a sitting American president met with the North Korean dictator.

North Korea craves international legitimacy, which the United States have deliberately withheld. Trump’s break with decades of policy is risky — but it’s not if existing policy has worked. North Korea remains a rogue state. It has only continued its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The challenge now, as Fred Kaplan writes in Slate, is organizing a careful diplomacy that includes coordinating common negotiating positions with Japan and South Korea.

Unfortunately, Trump has yet to appoint an ambassador to Seoul. The State Department’s top North Korea expert has resigned. None of the three top foreign-policy officials in Trump’s government — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — have much experience in Asia.

Also read this thread by Robert E. Kelly about why Korea hands are skeptical. Read more “Trump Agrees to Meet Kim, Trans Pacific Partnership Continues Without Him”

Trump’s Son-in-Law Loses Access, Macron Takes on Rail Unions

Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend, the American commander in Iraq, speaks with President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, in Baghdad, April 3, 2017
Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend, the American commander in Iraq, speaks with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, in Baghdad, April 3, 2017 (DoD/Dominique A. Pineiro)

The Washington Post reports that officials in at least four countries — China, Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates — have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, “by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign-policy experience.”

Officials in the White House were reportedly concerned that Kushner was “naive and being tricked” in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner and not with more experienced personnel.

Despite having no political or policy experience, Kushner was put in charge of everything from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to American relations with Mexico.

Politico reports that he has now lost his access to top-secret intelligence along with other officials in the White House who did not clear background checks.

The question: Will Trump accept this decision? Or will he once again put his family’s interests before his country’s? Read more “Trump’s Son-in-Law Loses Access, Macron Takes on Rail Unions”