Ours is a time when even the most Atlanticist countries talk about Europe’s need for strategic autonomy, and when some of its leaders are realizing that “the times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over,” to use Angela Merkel’s words. So readers may have been surprised when they saw France’s president praise his relationship with his US counterpart, especially with this US president, who was instrumental at convincing Merkel that “we have to fight for our own future ourselves.”
But if Emmanuel Macron is taking great care of his personal relationship with Donald Trump, it does not mean that he dismisses France’s traditional pursuit of independence. Since his election, Macron has been rather consistent with his campaign references to De Gaulle. Beyond the displays of “bromance,” Macron had several occasions in Washington to make his differences clear, and he seized them.
Western democracies are facing tough times. The United States is suffering from deep divisions, witnessing challenges to political institutions and retreating from a global emphasis on democratic values. Its traditional partner, the European Union, has turned inward after the financial crisis and refugee crisis as well as the acrimonious Brexit negotiations. Elections over the last two years saw gains by right-wing populist parties in Austria, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Governments in Hungary and Poland are threatening media and judicial independence. Voters on both sides of the Atlantic are worried about the adverse effects of globalization, displacement caused by new technologies and perceived immigration threats. Political parties, particularly on the center-left, have struggled to address these concerns.
The crises facing the transatlantic community are more profound that many citizens on either side of the Atlantic realize. A host of challenges, including migration, terrorism, low and uneven growth, high youth unemployment, significant debt, Russian disinformation campaigns, Brexit and the euro crisis, continue to erode domestic politics, economies, and security policies. While we should be proud of the many transatlantic institutions and initiatives that we’ve forged together over the past 70 years, we cannot afford to be complacent. We must engage in candid conversations about what is working – and what is not – and focus our attention on revitalizing the transatlantic community to more effectively tackle global challenges.