By Maria Saporta
The ascension of France on the global stage was exemplified on July 14 – Bastille Day – when Frenchman Warren Barguil gave France its first Bastille Day Tour de France victory in 12 years.
But an even more significant sign was when U.S. President Donald Trump accepted an invitation from the recently-elected President of France – Emmanuel Macron – to spend Bastille Day in Paris.
The symbolic and substantive gesture highlights an emerging presence of France on the European and global landscape. All signs point to Macron opening up a channel of communication between the United States and France, and thereby Europe.
In anticipation of Bastille Day (known in France as la Fête Nationale), the World Affairs Council of Atlanta held a program on July 11 titled: “The New Face of France.”
Ambassador Charles Shapiro, president of Atlanta’s World Affairs Council, opened the program by declaring Macron is the new face of France. The observation also has been made that France is becoming the new face of Europe.
“In the United States we are overly fixated on Brexit where the real story is that France is back and the EU is back,” Shapiro said.
When the United Kingdom decided to pull out of the European Union last year, it caused heartburn in Europe that the continent’s efforts to create a unified economy could be faltering.
But Macron’s election helped stem that fear when he defeated Marine Le Pen, who had campaigned against the European Union. Shapiro said his election solidified the powerful axis between Germany and France, the two largest economies in Europe.
And Macron’s overture to Trump places the French President in a unique position – a European leader who is building a relationship with the president of the United States.
The World Affairs Council panel, which occurred three days before the Trump-Macron meeting, outlined what is at stake.
“The two presidents have met already two times since President Macron was elected,” said Louis de Corail, France’s consul general in Atlanta, at the Tuesday panel. “They are going to meet a third time on Friday. It’s not a bad relationship in that regard.”
De Corail also said: “There’s nothing good about Brexit. We, the French and the Germans,…are rightfully fixated on Brexit. It’s the biggest event since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.”
Again the French election helped reverse the anti-EU movement that seemed to be sweeping Europe. Also, Macron represents a dramatic shift in France.
“From a political standpoint, it is a big change,” said François Bresson, head of finance Americas for Orange Business Services, at the panel. “It’s a new political party. There’s a feeling of optimism.”
Bresson said Macron is leading France at a time when the “economy is recovering at last,” and there’s an expectation that he will enact social and economic reforms.
“This country has not seen any economic reforms since 1995,” Bresson said. “There’s a lot to be done from an economic perspective,” adding that. there is a desire to reform the labor law and to reduce the role of unions.
From an external standpoint, Macron’s relationship with Trump could be extremely influential on U.S. policy on climate change. On June 1, Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement originally signed by every country on Earth except Syria and Nicaragua.
“In terms of climate change, we have a strong disagreement on that point,” de Corail said before Trump’s Bastille Day trip to Paris. “I’m sure President Trump and President Macron will discuss this topic on Friday.”
In fact, actually progress maybe underway. During a press conference in Paris, Trump seemed to be reconsidering his decision to withdraw from the climate agreement. Apparently that was one of the major topics the two presidents discussed.
Still, Bresson said the election of Trump and his policy to place America first, has already had its impact in France and Europe.
There’s a sentiment today that “Europeans as a whole, that we should take our destiny into our own hands,” Bresson said. “The Trump presidency forces us to think about who we are – without the United States… I see that as positive.”
The European Community likely will include its military investments as a way to make sure it is not dependent on U.S. economic support.
Meanwhile, the Alliance Française d’Atlanta, celebrated Bastille Day Saturday night with its annual party at the Nelson Mullins’ law firm in Atlantic Station.
De Corail put all the political changes – both in the United States and in France – in perspective.
“Presidents come and go,” de Corail said. “Yet the relationship remains.”
Vive la France!