Since his election last May, French President Emmanuel Macron has tried to, and maybe believed he could, bend Donald Trump’s convictions. Macron sought to turn the U.S. president away from nationalism, protectionism, and climate-change skepticism and toward his own vision of a world in which strong, sovereign nations collaborate to find multilateral solutions to transnational problems. At first he attempted to become Trump’s best friend. But now he approaches the U.S. president with a tone that sounds almost injured. And on Thursday he made perhaps his starkest statement yet regarding his concerns about where Trump’s policies could lead the United States and the rest of the world.
During an appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies gathered in Quebec, Emmanuel Macron didn’t just reflect on the policies that put Trump at odds with many of the other participants, though there are plenty of those. (See: Trump pulling out of the international Paris climate-change pact, withdrawing from the multilateral Iran nuclear agreement, and imposing steep steel and aluminum tariffs on Europe, Canada, and Mexico.) The leader of America’s oldest ally also stated that the U.S. needed to be persuaded to remain in the “community of nations”—to stay not in the narrow confines of the Paris accord or the Iran deal or some free-trade agreement with the European Union, not even in the broader transatlantic alliance, but in the broadest dimension of the civilized world.
The implication was that, left to his own devices, the American president might go rogue and defy both the values that bind his country with its allies and the international laws and norms that the United States, France, and other partners helped construct out of the ashes of World War II.
But in the effort to keep America in line, Macron said, according to his own translation of the remarks, “we must never sacrifice our interests or values.” On Friday, when Trump arrived in Quebec, the French president posted a video of the effort in action: Macron sitting snugly on a couch with the U.S. leader in an effort to keep “the dialogue alive” and “promote the interests of the French people, and all those who believe in a world we can build together.” (My colleague Krishnadev Calamur recently noted how, in the wake of Trump’s tariffs, Trudeau too has been characterizing the United States in ways that bring to mind a rogue state—contrasting the common sense and goodwill of the American people with the folly of the Trump administration.)
At his press conference with Trudeau, Macron called Trump’s tariffs, which risk plunging the United States and its allies into a spiraling trade tit-for-tat, “unilateral and illegal.” He warned that the United States was embracing isolationism and neglecting “its own history, its own values.” Ahead of the G7 meeting—which includes Canada, the United States, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom—he notedthat while Trump may not “mind being isolated,” the other “six countries represent [shared] values” and “true international force.” He vowed to “fight hegemony,” which he defined as the “survival of the fittest,” a concept he has previously associated with those who practice unilateralist foreign policy. “Hegemony,” Macron said, spells “the end of the rule of law.”
And Macron, it turns out, has company. On Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk, who warned days into the Trump administration that the new American president posed a threat to European unity, arrived in Quebec for the G7 summit and reported that the threat, in fact, was actually much bigger than that. The “rules-based international order is being challenged,” he argued—“not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor: the U.S.”
“We cannot force the U.S. to change their minds,” Tusk noted. “At the same time, we will not stop trying to convince our American friends and President Trump that undermining this order makes no sense at all. Because it would only play into the hands of those who seek a new, post-West order, where liberal democracy and fundamental freedoms would cease to exist. This is in the interest of neither the U.S. nor Europe.”
This order and these values are worth fighting for, Tusk insisted. “They define our way of life.”