Rarely is there so much pomp. Hundreds of people descended on the White House park on a cold, sunny Thursday morning. Many of them wave French and American flags. A red carpet has been rolled out. The lectern with the presidential seal is ready. Hundreds of musicians are present.
At 9:18 a.m. local time, Joe and Jill Biden welcome their guests: French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte. The two Presidents go to the delegations, shaking hands, a few words. Shortly thereafter, the musicians play the Marseillaise. 21 gun salutes thunder. The American national anthem sounds.
"Dear Joe, dear Jill," Macron begins his speech: "I feel honored and moved to be here in the White House today." As the war returns to Europe, "we must become brothers in arms again," says the guest from Paris. The friendship between the USA and France is rooted through the centuries.
Biden also applies all kinds of pathos: "The United States could not wish for a better partner in this world than France." The strength of both countries is based on their commitment to freedom and justice for all. Biden quotes France's motto in French: "liberté, egalité, fraternité". After their speeches, the men hug each other, shake hands, and wave. They move into the White House, and once again show themselves side by side on the balcony, next to their wives.
So pomp and pathos. In the afternoon it is less noticeable. A good hour and a half late, Biden and Macron appear in front of the press, framed by glowing Christmas trees. Even this delay points to a sometimes controversial dialogue between the two delegations.
With Biden and Macron, there is a different tone than when you greet them in the morning. More sober, less solemn. The two presidents talked in a binding but sometimes business-like manner. How might it have been during the talks behind closed doors?
While both sides agree on the issues of Russia and China, there is a great deal of contention about the effects of the US $370 billion package on jobs and the climate. The Europeans, especially Germany and France, fear that the USA will lure companies into their country with subsidies and cheap energy. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is "super aggressive," Macron said in Washington on Wednesday. He was angry about the core project of Biden's presidency: "The decisions will divide the West."
And now, after their conversation in the Oval Office? "Occasionally we have slight differences, but never in a fundamental way," Biden downplayed the differences. Macron sounds less soft. The French President claims he and Biden have agreed to "resynchronize our approaches" to the Inflation Reduction Act. Teams from both sides should “find solutions,” says Macron.
While Macron is talking about the most controversial topic of this state visit, Biden looks hard first at his lectern, then at the hall. He avoids eye contact, even when Macron is looking for him. Biden refrains from wearing the Biden smile during these passages. Only when Macron is talking about other topics - climate protection, the fight against AIDS, biodiversity - does Biden look directly at him again.
Four journalists are allowed to ask questions, most of them putting their finger in the wound, addressing the differences in industrial policy. Keywords: subsidies, protectionism, Macron's characterization of the Inflation Reduction Act as "super aggressive".
Biden took the floor immediately after the first question. He didn't understand the question put to him, says the host. But he wants to get rid of a message. “The United States does not apologize. And I don't apologize for it," he says, referring to the Inflation Reduction Act. It is the largest investment in climate change in history. Biden could also say: It is the heart of my politics. I signed it. It comes into force on January 1, 2023. Biden is sometimes tougher than he appears on the outside, smiling and charming.
Small deficiencies in the law can be remedied, Biden is minimally conciliatory. "We can make some changes that will make it fundamentally easier for European companies," he says. "It was never intended to exclude them." But the baseline for the USA is clear: there will be no changes in substance. Biden even plays the ball back to Macron by saying: Europe has the opportunity to do the same. In plain English: adopt a climate and job package too!
Here Biden hits a sensitive point with Macron: the US once attacked the Europeans for subsidies (Boeing!). Biden is now pursuing a sort of European-style social-democratic industrial policy – and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth in Europe. SPD leader Lars Klingbeil even fears a "de-industrialization" of Germany as a result of Biden's policy.
Macron characterizes the talks on the Inflation Reduction Act as “extremely clear”. He speaks of “differences” in terms of subsidies. But that's the way it is, says Macron: Biden wants to build a strong industry in his country. "France wants exactly the same thing for itself." They are fighting against a 15-year industrial exodus. Macron, who rumbled so loudly the day before, is almost tame at the end of his appearance with Biden: "We want to be successful together, not one against the other."