PARIS — It was an awkward truce to avert a Twitter war, a day before the big Armistice Day commemoration in Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump, meeting at the Élysée Palace on Saturday morning, appeared to smooth over any differences after the visiting American took offense on Friday to comments Macron had made earlier in the week.
Macron, in the interview with Europe 1, had called for the EU to create its own army, “to protect us against China, Russia and even the United States of America,” citing Trump’s intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Macron’s comments were perhaps provocative — but not for the reasons cited by Trump. Many other European leaders do not support the idea of an EU army, which many view as an overly integrationist approach to European common security and defense policy. It can be a subject of heated disagreement in Brussels.
Macron told Europe 1: “We will not protect the European if we don’t decide to have a real European army. Faced with Russia, which is at our borders and which showed us that it could be threatening, we must have a Europe that defends itself more on its own, without only depending on the United States and in a more sovereign way.”
He also castigated Trump from withdrawing from the INF treaty. “Who will be the main victim?,” Macron asked. “Europe and its security.”
EU leaders often speak in the same terms that Macron used in the interview, citing Russia and China, as well as Trump’s evident skepticism about transatlantic cooperation, as security threats. While it’s not exactly clear what troubled Trump, or if he had seen a full translation of Macron’s remarks, any notion of actual hostilities between the U.S. and Europe is preposterous, and it is impossible that the French president was suggesting such.
Indeed, Macron’s comments would seem to fit rather well with Trump’s repeated and often bombastic demands that European allies spend more money on military and defense, and that they meet a NATO spending target of 2 percent of annual GDP.
But Trump, rather than claiming victory and endorsing Macron’s approach, instead tweeted that Macron’s remarks were “very insulting.”
President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
Tensions eased, however, as Macron welcomed Trump at the Élysée Palace on Saturday for policy meetings. Macron seemed intent on smoothing things over and stressed that he fully supported Trump’s calls for increased military spending by NATO allies.
“We need a much better burden-sharing in NATO,” Macron said, adding, “My proposals on European defense are consistent with that.”
Calling Trump’s visit “a pleasure,” Macron added, “our people are very proud to have you here.”
Trump almost made nice, though he repeated his view that the U.S. alliance with European partners was not fair while adopting a stiff and frosty posture to the French president’s warm body language — including a couple of taps on Trump’s knee.
“I appreciate what you are saying about burden sharing,” Trump told Macron. “You know what my attitude has been and we want a strong Europe; it’s very important to the U.S. to have a strong Europe.”
Later, he added: “We are getting along from the standpoint of fairness; we want it to be fair. We want to help Europe but it has to be fair. Right now the burden-sharing has been largely on the United States, as the president was saying. He understands it, and he understands that the United States can only do so much — in fairness to the United States.”
The two presidents are due to spend Saturday morning in a series of policy meetings. Macron is playing host to scores of world leaders on Sunday morning for a formal ceremony marking the armistice that ended World War 1.
Trump and Macron had appeared to enjoy a budding bromance when Trump visited Paris for the first time as president in July 2017 for Bastille Day festivities — including a military parade that left him enthralled. But the relationship has come under strain amid Trump’s continued withering criticism of Europe not only on military spending, but also on trade, the Iran nuclear deal, the North Stream 2 gas pipeline and other issues.
Maïa de la Baume contributed reporting.