Two days in Paris between friends?

FRANCE-US-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY

Donald Trump, President of the US, responded positively weeks ago to the invitation of the newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, to assist at the military parade of the 14 of July. French public opinion, as well as experts, were certainly divided concerning such invitation and the presence of the American president at this national celebration. Politipond argues that such invitation was aligned with France-US interests and US-Europe interests regardless of the domestic turmoils of Donald Trump and his cabinet. Furthermore, this official visit highlighted a complex divide between the perceptions of the US, as an ally, and the perceptions of the US through the representation of his president. This subtlety was lost in translation.

Logics and reasons

Macron’s invitation has divided experts, public opinion and the media. Politico Europe probably published the article with the most telling title, Trump and Macron go from mano a mano to tête-à-tête  referencing the evolving tone of the relationship between the two men. If Macron demonstrated toughness during their first meetings at the NATO and G-7 summits in May, their third meeting on July 13-14 seemed much warmer. The claim is that Macron strategized his interaction with his American homologue in order to foster respect. Candidate and then President Trump have been consistent, as he has continuously demonstrated considerable respect to strongmen such as Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, and apparently Emmanuel Macron.

Some have compared Macron and Trump as they share some similitudes. Both won outside the party system; Macron created a movement Onward! a year prior the election and managed to undermine the historical supremacy of the right and left by winning the presidential and legislative elections, while Trump running as a republican candidate certainly does not fit within the conventional ideological lines of the party. Both are framed as non-politicians, as having never ran for office. If it is true for Trump, it is not the fully the case for Macron having evolved in the highest political spheres during the Hollande presidency. But the comparison cannot go furthermore. Macron has a certain understanding of politics and the history of the French Fifth Republic as designed and envisioned by Charles de Gaulle in 1958. Macron is carefully crafting a presidential image, under the Jupiterian president aura, through a demonstration of strengthen as he is oftentimes represented surrounded by French military might. If President Sarkozy was seen as the hyperactive president, François Hollande, the ‘normal’ president, Macron is concerned about displaying and embodying French grandeur.

From Paris, especially the Elysée, the message behind this invitation was to commemorate the entry of the US in 1917 in World War one, which plays against the isolationist narrative emanating from the White House. 1917 symbolizes American engagement in the world, while 2017 may illustrate the beginning of a potential American isolationism. The relationship between the two countries is over 200 years old. The French monarchy played an important role in assisting the patriots against the British crown. Benjamin Franklin played a considerable role starting in 1776 in engaging with France, while serving from 1776 to 1778 in a commission in France in charge of getting French support for American independence. France not only recognized American’s independence but as well concluded an alliance with the 13 colonies in 1778. Skipping one century, in 1917 when the Americans joined the war on the European continent, Colonel C. E. Stanton, General John J. Pershing’s aide, famously declared before the tomb of the Marquis Lafayette, ‘Lafayette, we are here!’ This brief historical anecdotes illustrate the deep ties and historical connections between the two countries. The ties go beyond the leader at the time.

Points of Convergence?

The intervention of the two presidents in front of the press lists the series of issues wherein the US and France have shared interests: the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria, counter-terrorism, free and ‘fair’ trade, and the sanctity of national sovereignty. Two additional items were on the agenda of the French president. The first one concerned the COP-21 or Paris agreement entered into force Fall 2016 ratified by 153 nations. President Trump announced early on his presidency that the US would withdraw from the binding deal. European leaders, in particular Chancellor Merkel and President Macron, have been adamant about the necessity to meet the goals set-up in order to address the root causes of climate change.

The second item, an unconfirmed point, may be regarding  potential American support to the initiative of the G5 Sahel bloc – Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad -, planning on launching a new multinational military force led by African powers. France has been militarily involved in the Sahel region since 2013 in order to limit the regional influence of Islamist militant group. This new force will operate in coordination with French troops and MINUSMA, Mali’s struggling U.N. peacekeeping mission. Financially, the European Union has pledged around 50 million euros, while France would contribute around 8 million euros by the end of the year. The US have played a role in providing equipments, information and military support to the French. This military effort aligns with the transatlantic counter-terrorist strategy. However, no comments on this point emerged.

Beyond the 14 of July – Perceptions matter

The Franco-American relationship has not deteriorated, but the French positive perception of the US as embodied by President Trump have collapsed over night. The recent Pew research center’s report on global perceptions illustrates clearly the instant changes of attitudes towards the US at the critical juncture of November 2016, the election of Donald Trump.

Global perceptions-1

The graph tells a compelling story of an immediate decline in the positive views of the US in a period of four months dropping by 15 percentage points (pp). The most damaging decline illustrates the confidence in the US presidency, wherein 74% expressed no confidence in President Trump, as opposed to 23% for President Obama.

Global perceptions2

 

This graph provides a global snapshot of the shifting perceptions between Presidents Obama and Trump. The only two countries with positive perceptions are Israel (+7pp) and Russia (+42pp). The rest of the world tends to share a lack of confidence in the American presidency held by Trump. The most critical are Sweden (-83), the Netherlands (-75pp), Germany (-75pp), South Korea (-71pp), and France (-70pp). Concerning the list of European countries above, President Obama had received strong support and a total admiration by Europeans. And this despite serious crises occurring during his mandate such as the Snowden revelations.

The last graph provides a snapshot over a longer period of time of the level of confidence in Western Europe (UK, Germany, France and Spain) in the American leader in power.Global perceptions3

President Bush never received considerable positive reviews from Europe. But the most damaging moment of his presidency, from European point of view, was the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The UK and Spain joined the coalition of the willing, which was not the case for France and Germany. The confidence in the US grew overnight ensuing the election of President Obama in 2008. The Snowden revelations were the lowest point for President Obama and the EU-US relationship during his two mandates. But the persona of Obama was sufficient in maintaining positive perceptions and confidence in the US in Europe. As the confidence ratings climbed overnight in 2008 by ~+60 pp, they dropped by ~60pp.

Trump or Not, the US Remains Central

As advanced in the report, President Trump is perceived, especially in France and Europe, as arrogant, intolerant and dangerous. The data proves that the US-Franco/Europe relations continues to remain strong despite the occasional disagreements. Regardless of the tenant of the White House, the United States remains the indispensable nation figuring at the heart of world affairs and geopolitics. In the case of Europe, the United States is a major contributor and guarantor of European security, through NATO and parallel transatlantic defense and intelligence ties. President of France positions himself as a pragmatist, as declared during his meeting with Vladimir Putin in June. It is in the interest of both countries to maintain strong political, diplomatic and cultural ties. France has a card to play with at this time considering the fraught relationship between the German and American leaders and the ongoing turmoils in the UK. The key for the French leader is to keep a balance between cooperation and independence.

(Copyright 2017 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The Minsk Provisions – The Emergence of a New European Foreign Policy Engine?

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After an all-nighter, the four-nation peace talks in Minsk concluded with a list of 13 provisions in order to bring peace back in Eastern Ukraine. The meeting was held between French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro O. Poroshenko. The marathon bargaining peace talks almost collapsed in the early morning, but was finalized thanks to an agreement on several key provisions such as: ceasefire on February 15th (point 1); withdrawal of heavy weaponry (point 2); a promise for constitutional change (point 11), and “special status” for the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk (points 4 and 5); humanitarian assistance (point 7) among others.

The concern, now after having Presidents Putin and Poroshenko at the same table, consists in enforcing the 13 provisions (listed below) and ultimately guaranteeing peace. The EU and the OSCE will have to continue their monitoring roles as requested in the provisions (points 2, 3, 10, 12). However there is two threats flying over the success of the

AFP/Mykola Lazarenko
AFP/Mykola Lazarenko

peace agreement: first, will Vladimir Putin bind himself to the agreement? So far, Vladimir Putin has yet to demonstrate his compliance. Second, will the US give a chance to diplomacy and avoid the continuous threat of providing lethal weapons to the Ukrainian government? (read here a previous analysis on arming Ukraine). Even though none of these questions can be answered, the success of this peace agreement depends on them.

Franco-German Engine – A Shift in European Foreign Policy?

Ensuing the talks, German Chancellor and French President expressed their views and conclusions in a joint-declaration. “We have no illusions,” Chancellor Merkel said, “A great, great deal of work still needs to be done. But there is a real chance to turn things around toward the better.” On the 12th of February, both leaders were briefing the European Council about the Minsk agreement. “It is as well a relief for Europe” said President Hollande. “It is an example of what Germany and France are capable of accomplishing in promoting peace.”

The German-Franco diplomatic engine is an interesting illustration of a shift in European decision-making in foreign policy. After years of reluctance in leading in foreign affairs and of rapprochement with the East (policy known as Ostpolitik, or Eastern policy, which focused more on rapprochement with the east, and especially with Russia), Germany has recently changed its course of actions. Since the annexation of Crimea, Germany has been a European pillar in seeking for a solution in Ukraine and with Russia. Both Berlin and Paris understand the strategic consequences of the war in Ukraine and even an eventual lasting frozen war on the European continent. Both countries understand the importance of normalizing relations with Russia for economic, energy, commercial, political and naturally security reasons.

However, the Normandy format – the four nations talks – “eclipsed the EU, sidelined Poland, and excluded the United States, something that Putin surely wanted” writes Judy Dempsey. “But the presence of the EU and the United States would have signaled a strong and united transatlantic front.” Such format permits Chancellor Merkel to follow her strategic avenue based on diplomacy and economic sanctions. Such approach is defined as ‘strategic patience.’ Additionally, France provides strong diplomatic support to Germany.

Interestingly enough, the missing Member State is the United Kingdom (UK). Prime Minister Cameron has really put the UK on the sidelines on foreign policy questions. Even former Britain’s highest ranking NATO, General Sir Richard Shirreff, underlined the absence of the UK in shaping negotiations and solving the crisis. “The UK is a major Nato member, it is a major EU member, it is a member of the UN security council,” he said,“and it is unfortunate that the weight that the British prime minister could bring to efforts to resolve this crisis appear to be absent.” Philip Hammond responded to the criticism by claiming that the UK had “chosen to take such a back seat” and let the Germans lead the negotiations. Nevertheless, Cameron’s absence – or irrelevance – is a considerable missing piece to the puzzle. His domestic policy of euro-bashing has affected UK’s role in shaping a common European foreign policy.

Last but not least, the fact that the EU is not an active part of the negotiations demonstrates the complexity in forging a common strategy between Western and Eastern Members and between willing and unwilling foreign policy actors. But on a positive note, historically, questions of foreign and defence policies have been initiated through bilateral agreement, which have then spilled-over at the Union-level. The EU may not need to be at the negotiation table with Putin and Poroshenko, but it will need to bring a credible voice and force in assuring the survival of the ceasefire and then avoiding a war on the European continent with Russia in the middle.

The 13 Provisions of the Minsk Agreements for a Peace in Eastern Ukraine

Based on the Elysée’s webiste, here are the list of the 13 provisions agreed by the four nations in order to bring peace back in Eastern Ukraine:

1. Immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and its strict implementation as of 15 February 2015, 12am local time.

2. Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides by equal distances in order to create a security zone of at least 50 km wide from each other for the artillery systems of caliber of 100 and more, a security zone of 70 km wide for MLRS and 140 km wide for MLRS ‘Tornado-S,’ Uragan, Smerch and Tactical Missile Systems (Tochka, Tochka U):

for the Ukrainian troops: from the de facto line of contact;

for the armed formations from certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine: from the line of contact according to the Minsk Memorandum of Sept. 19th, 2014;

The withdrawal of the heavy weapons as specified above is to start on day 2 of the ceasefire at the latest and be completed within 14 days.

The process shall be facilitated by the OSCE and supported by the Trilateral Contact Group.

3. Ensure effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire regime and the withdrawal of heavy weapons by the OSCE from day 1 of the withdrawal, using all technical equipment necessary, including satellites, drones, radar equipment, etc.

4. Launch a dialogue, on day 1 of the withdrawal, on modalities of local elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions” as well as on the future regime of these areas based on this law.

Adopt promptly, by no later than 30 days after the date of signing of this document a Resolution of the Parliament of Ukraine specifying the area enjoying a special regime, under the Law of Ukraine “On interim self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, based on the line of the Minsk Memorandum of September 19, 2014.

5. Ensure pardon and amnesty by enacting the law prohibiting the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that took place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

6. Ensure release and exchange of all hostages and unlawfully detained persons, based on the principle “all for all”. This process is to be finished on the day 5 after the withdrawal at the latest.

7. Ensure safe access, delivery, storage, and distribution of humanitarian assistance to those in need, on the basis of an international mechanism.

8. Definition of modalities of full resumption of socio-economic ties, including social transfers such as pension payments and other payments (incomes and revenues, timely payments of all utility bills, reinstating taxation within the legal framework of Ukraine).

To this end, Ukraine shall reinstate control of the segment of its banking system in the conflict-affected areas and possibly an international mechanism to facilitate such transfers shall be established.

9. Reinstatement of full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area, starting on day 1 after the local elections and ending after the comprehensive political settlement (local elections in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the basis of the Law of Ukraine and constitutional reform) to be finalized by the end of 2015, provided that paragraph 11 has been implemented in consultation with and upon agreement by representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.

10. Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under monitoring of the OSCE. Disarmament of all illegal groups.

11. Carrying out constitutional reform in Ukraine with a new constitution entering into force by the end of 2015 providing for decentralization as a key element (including a reference to the specificities of certain areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, agreed with the representatives of these areas), as well as adopting permanent legislation on the special status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in line with measures as set out in the footnote until the end of 2015.1

12. Based on the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, questions related to local elections will be discussed and agreed upon with representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group. Elections will be held in accordance with relevant OSCE standards and monitored by OSCE/ODIHR.

13. Intensify the work of the Trilateral Contact Group including through the establishment of working groups on the implementation of relevant aspects of the Minsk agreements. They will reflect the composition of the Trilateral Contact Group.

Participants of the Trilateral Contact Group:

Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini 

Second President of Ukraine, L. D. Kuchma

Ambassador of the Russian Federation

to Ukraine, M. Yu. Zurabov

A.W. Zakharchenko

I.W. Plotnitski

1 Such measures are, according to the Law on the special order for local self-government in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions:

Exemption from punishment, prosecution and discrimination for persons involved in the events that have taken place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Right to linguistic self-determination;

Participation of organs of local self-government in the appointment of heads of public prosecution offices and courts in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Possibility for central governmental authorities to initiate agreements with organs of local self-government regarding the economic, social and cultural development of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

State supports the social and economic development of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Support by central government authorities of cross-border cooperation in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions with districts of the Russian Federation;

Creation of the people’s police units by decision of local councils for the maintenance of public order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

The powers of deputies of local councils and officials, elected at early elections, appointed by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by this law, cannot be early terminated.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).