Emmanuel Macron, France’s economy minister, gestures as he speaks during a panel session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos (Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg)

Macron Tells U.S. Turning Its Back on World Is Bigger Risk

(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron told U.S. lawmakers they must join with the international community to help preserve and extend the benefits of the postwar world order.

Addressing a joint session of Congress Wednesday on the third day of a state visit, Macron appealed to the U.S. not to turn inward as he listed a host of threats facing the world from climate change and rogue nuclear weapons to inequality and fake news.

“We have to keep our eyes wide open to the new risks right in front of us,” he said. “The only option is to strengthen our cooperation. We can build the new 21st century world order on a new breed of multilateralism.”

Macron’s trip has been dominated by rifts between the U.S. and the European Union stemming from President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. With the U.S. threatening to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and impose tariffs on its trading partners, the French leader set out an alternative world view in which nations act together to control dangers and help the middle classes.

“The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism,” he said in his speech in English. “You are the one now who has to help to preserve and reinvent it.”

Pence’s Poker Face

Macron was loudly cheered by Democrats, in particular when he predicted that the U.S. would one day rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Vice President Mike Pence didn’t move in response to that comment and several passages drew only sparse applause from the Republicans.

“France is a great international ally, but you have to remember this president is center left or even more left,” Brian Babin, a Republican from Texas, said. “I think we need to really, really keep a sober mind and a sober eye.”

The U.S. Capitol has a long history as a setting for French leaders looking to make their mark on world affairs. The Marquis de Lafayette, a French general who fought for the U.S. in the Revolutionary War, was the first foreign dignitary to address Congress in 1824 and Macron’s speech comes on the anniversary of one by Charles de Gaulle in 1960. Nicolas Sarkozy was the last French President to appear before U.S. lawmakers in 2007.

Macron the previous day had proposed a new agreement with Iran in an effort to persuade Trump not to reimpose sanctions. The French plan would involve another pact extending restrictions on its nuclear program, restricting its ballistic missile work and limiting Iran’s broader influence in the Middle East.

Trump seemed at least somewhat interested in Macron’s blueprint, calling it a “new deal” with “solid foundations.” Teams of American negotiators have been working with European allies for weeks on a new accord along the lines of what Macron laid out. Like Macron, their biggest challenge is the absence of any guarantee that Trump will accept the result.

Historic Allies

Macron’s speech was aimed at rallying broader support for that initiative, and for the principle of cooperation between nations. Macron vowed that Iran would never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons and pledged to remain engaged in the Middle East, appealing to the U.S. to maintain its presence alongside French troops.

There were long passages about historic battles when French and U.S. troops fought alongside each other with eulogies to soldiers who lost their lives defending western values. Nationalism, he said, is an “illusion.”

On trade, he defended “free and fair” relationships, but said that grievances between nations should be pursued through the World Trade Organization since a conflict over commerce was in no one’s interests.

As a former investment banker and economy minister, Macron may be more in line with traditional Republicans than their own president. His recognition that some countries engage in trade violations and overcapacity of steel and aluminum -- but that Europe isn’t the problem -- tracks closely with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s response to Trump’s tariff announcement last month.

Congressional Republicans have urged the Trump administration to be more targeted in its trade policy, rather than instituting broad measures that impact traditional allies like France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit the White House Friday with a similar message.

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