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Sanctions for tax, and not only: why Macron and Trump argued

There is no agreement among the comrades — such a conclusion is self-evident after the short negotiations that were held on the sidelines of the NATO summit in London by the head of the American administration Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron. The leaders of the two countries have publicly demonstrated differences in approaches to assessing the state of the North Atlantic Alliance, the situation in Syria and the fight against terrorism.

They also failed to relieve the tension caused by France’s decision to tax the largest US corporations providing digital services. The conflict caused by this decision threatens to escalate into a large-scale trade war between the United States and France.

“From Fruses to Frags?” — The New York Times newspaper, which did not have much sympathy for the current owner of the White House, scammed about it. And she illustrated the publication with an expressive shot in which Macron with a decisive look pointed his index finger at Trump, looking somewhere into space with a thoughtful and detached expression on his face.

Did not agree on a diagnosis

One of the reasons for the current disagreement, clearly manifested in London, was the diagnosis made by the French leader to the North Atlantic Alliance. A month ago, in an interview with the British magazine The Economist, Macron announced the “death of NATO's brain.” He also expressed doubt that the United States is prepared to conscientiously fulfill its obligations arising from Article 5 of the NATO Charter on Collective Self-Defense. And as an example, he recalled how Washington actually threw the Syrian Kurds to the mercy of fate, which they had previously supported in every possible way for several years.

Statements by the French president, according to the American media, seriously “angered Trump.” The US president himself has repeatedly criticized NATO, but in his remark about the “death of the brain,” he apparently spotted a hidden attack on the United States, which plays the leading role in the alliance. In London, Trump directly expressed his disagreement with the diagnosis made by Macron. “These statements [about the” death of the brain “] are offensive to many NATO countries. In particular, the Turkish president said that Macron had a brain death. France needs France most and NATO needs the least, which invests in Europe’s defense,” said the American leader at a press conference after meeting with Alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

This public rebuke did not bother the French leader. In talks with Trump, Macron said he “reaffirms his words,” which provoked a wide international response, and continues to insist on the need to refine NATO’s strategy.

Argued about terrorism

According to Macron, one of the priorities of the North Atlantic Alliance should be the fight against international terrorism. In this regard, the French leader in London disagreed with Trump’s assertion that the United States managed to completely end Daesh.

The owner of the White House did not remain in debt and recalled the unwillingness of France and other European countries to accept those of their citizens who fought in Syria on the side of the Islamic State and were captured by American troops. “Want some nice Daesh fighters? I can provide you as much as you want,” Trump turned to Macron in a joking tone. The French president did not accept the joke, dryly remarking: “Let's stay serious.” And he reminded that most of the militants came from not at all European, but from Arab countries. Trump, in turn, called Macron’s remark “one of the best evasions he has ever encountered”, which caused laughter among his entourage.

The verbal dive, reflecting the discontent of the interlocutors with each other, continued even later when it came to the need to build a dialogue with Russia. The idea that Russia is for NATO, not an enemy or rival, but a partner and neighbor, without which it is impossible to ensure lasting European security, the French leader has persistently pursued over the past months. At a meeting with Trump, he reiterated: “If we want stability in Europe, it is extremely important to begin a strategic dialogue with Russia.”

“I think we should get along with Russia. It’s good if we get along with Russia,” the president of the United States seemed to agree. But, by the way, he immediately added that the alliance “should be ready [for a possible confrontation], whether it be Russia or anyone else.”

Digital Company Taxes

Experts suggested that at a meeting in London, Macron and Trump will try to resolve the conflict caused by the French tax law on digital companies, which cover online advertising, online commerce, and information aggregators. The law covers all companies whose turnover exceeds €750 million in the world and €25 million in France. In other words, we are talking primarily about American giants such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.

In the US, this tax was considered discriminatory. Literally, on the eve of the London NATO summit, it became known that Washington, in response to the digital tax imposed by Paris, is considering the possibility of imposing duties on French goods worth about $2.4 billion. The list of such goods includes, in particular, dairy products, as well as cheeses, champagne, cosmetics and cosmetics, leather goods, porcelain. Additional duties on these products can reach 100%. The news of the actual sanctions that could be imposed within a month and could hurt French exporters painfully caused serious concern in Paris. “This is not the behavior that we expect from the United States in relation to its main allies — France and Europe as a whole,” the French Minister of Economics and Finance Bruno Le Mer responded. He promised that if prohibitive duties were introduced, France and the EU would give the US a “strong answer.”

It is clear that in this context, the discussion of the topic of the French digital tax and possible US duties took an important place in the negotiations between the two presidents. According to a sparse report from the White House press service, Trump “noted the importance of France ensuring equal rights for US companies by lifting trade barriers, including the digital services tax.” According to The New York Times, the American president was more categorical, saying: “These are American companies. We want to tax American companies ourselves. This is important. We want to do it ourselves, and not let anyone else do it.”

Trump also recalled that Washington had previously imposed increased duties that apply to French wines and high-tech products. In addition, he did not miss the opportunity to put a hairpin at Macron, noting that in France the population’s dissatisfaction with the socio-economic policy of the authorities is growing.

In response, the French leader said that he would continue to defend the interests of France and all of Europe in the digital sphere. He considered it necessary to clarify that the digital tax is not specifically directed against American corporations and will be the same for all companies, be they French, Chinese or some other.

In general, judging by the tone of the discussion, it cannot be ruled out that the matter will nevertheless come to a large-scale trade war between partners on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Laughs the one who laughs last

In fact, Trump and Macron's personal relationship has never been very warm. Even at their very first meeting in May 2017, which, incidentally, also took place during the NATO summit, journalists drew attention to the zeal with which, until white knuckles, the young French president, barely taking office, shook hands with an older American colleague. Later, Macron himself explained the special meaning that he put into that handshake: “This is not alpha and omega politics, but the moment of truth. It was necessary to show that it was enough to make concessions, even symbolic.”

“I don’t believe in the diplomacy of public curses, but I won’t let it go during bilateral negotiations, the only way you can respect yourself,” the French leader, taking his first steps in world politics, said in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche. Two and a half years have passed since then, and in London Macron showed that he was really ready not to give a descent. The media in France and the United States drew attention to how confidently Macron held a press conference with Trump, how clearly and consistently, point by point, the French leader answered the statements of the American president, not hesitating to openly argue with him. Against the background of the fact that usually, the participants in the joint press conferences with Trump behave in a completely different way, Macron’s manner shocked American commentators so much that one of them was able to utter a surprised “Wow!” On Fox News.

And then the short video footage made during a London reception in which the French president, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte sarcastically chuckled at the US president, because of which the whole schedule moved events. This story should seem especially unpleasant to Trump, who has previously repeatedly noticed that with him no one in the world laughs at the United States anymore, as happened with his predecessors.

However, it is known: the one who laughs last laughs well. If Trump now approves the introduction of increased duties on goods from France, then Macron and especially French exporters will definitely not be laughing.

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