Russia used Facebook to try to spy on Macron campaign

Reuters reports: Russian intelligence agents attempted to spy on President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign earlier this year by creating phony Facebook personas, according to a U.S. Congressman and two other people briefed on the effort.

About two dozen Facebook accounts were created to conduct surveillance on Macron campaign officials and others close to the centrist former financier as he sought to defeat far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and other opponents in the two-round election, the sources said. Macron won in a landslide in May.

Facebook said in April it had taken action against fake accounts that were spreading misinformation about the French election. But the effort to infiltrate the social networks of Macron officials has not previously been reported. [Continue reading…]

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A sustainable solution for Syria will not be found by rehabilitating Assad

Kim Ghattas writes: Twenty-five years ago, French sociologist Michel Seurat penned a series of essays that brought to light what he described as “l’Etat de barbarie,” the state of barbarism, inherent in the Assads’ rule. He detailed their savagery in repressing the Islamist uprising of the early 1980s, with summary executions of dozens of villagers, hundreds of prisoners shot to death in their cells, and indiscriminate shelling of whole towns.

“The crumbling of the political legitimacy of the regime translates on the ground to a reactivation of forms of legitimacy that precede political structures,” he wrote. In other words, the solidarity of ethnic and sectarian groups, rather than sociopolitical organizations, held sway. President Hafez al-Assad’s political vision had devolved to consisting solely of “tying the destiny of the Alawite community to his own destiny.”

Seurat would pay the ultimate price for his work. He was kidnapped in Beirut in 1985, at the height of the civil war, by the Islamic Jihad, a group with ties to Syria and Iran. He was executed in captivity, his body only found and repatriated to France in 2005. As both Trump and Macron broach the possibility of reconciling themselves to Assad’s reign in Damascus, his writings remain a cautionary tale about the costs of that approach.

Bashar al-Assad himself was once the guest of a French president for Bastille Day. Nicolas Sarkozy, eager to do the opposite of everything his predecessor had done, rolled out the red carpet in 2008 for the Syrian leader, who had been transformed into an international pariah by Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush.

But Sarkozy’s solicitousness marked a reversion to an earlier pattern. If the Holy Grail for international diplomats is the achievement of regional peace in the Middle East, peace between Syria and Israel has long been identified as a first step toward it. As Henry Kissinger once said, “You can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt, and you can’t make peace without Syria.” That one sentence sent endless diplomats and officials on the road to Damascus in a vain quest to persuade Bashar’s father, President Hafez al-Assad, to sign on the dotted line of various peace accords. The signature never came.

At first, there was more hope in Bashar, a British-educated ophthalmologist with a pretty wife, who kept making the right noises about peace and promising domestic reforms — promises that sounded good enough that everyone kept coming back, hoping the next visit would seal the deal.

Assad’s isolation began when his regime was accused of ordering the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in a massive truck bomb on Beirut’s seaside corniche on Feb. 14, 2005. Huge protests ensued in Lebanon, calling for an end to the 30-year Syrian occupation of that country. With Bush and Chirac, a close friend of Hariri, leading the charge, the international community ostracized Assad and forced his 15,000 troops into a humiliating retreat out of the country that the Assad family considered a part of Syria.

Sarkozy’s 2008 invitation to the “well behaved autocrat,” as Le Monde described him then, ended five years of painful isolation for Assad. It was a period during which his political obituary was being drafted and people close to the regime in Damascus would joke to you in hushed tones about who should turn off the lights on the way out of the country.

What motivated Sarkozy was the belief that unlike his predecessor, he could forge a different relationship with Assad, and that his persona and cunning could persuade the ruler of Damascus to change his ways. (The same self-confidence might be said to have motivated Secretary of State John Kerry, who was one of the last to withdraw his faith in Assad after his forces started shooting protesters in 2011.)

One can speculate about an alternative course of events if Sarkozy had not rehabilitated Assad in 2008, one where perhaps the pressure had not let up and Assad would have had to deliver on his vague promises to reform. Or possibly popular dissent would have swelled up sooner than it did in 2011, but would not have earned the same ruthless response from a leader already cowed into submission. In these scenarios Syria could have remained a country intact. We will never know.

But today it’s worth pondering the trajectory on which Macron’s approach is placing Syria and the region. What France wants from Syria is no longer peace with Israel, or even a rejection of its alliance with Iran. Assad, in any case, can deliver neither of those things. Macron’s focus is understandably on counterterrorism and stemming the flow of jihadis from Syria into Europe.

In his much-scrutinized and wide-ranging interview with Le Figaro, Macron made two key points on Syria. The first one was the statement about Assad not being the enemy of France. The other was a clarification of his position on Assad’s future. Having once said that there was no solution to the conflict in Syria with Assad in power, he clarified, “I never said that the destitution of Bashar al-Assad was a prerequisite for everything, because no one has introduced to me his legitimate successor.”

But as France well knows, there’s also a price for keeping Assad in power. In 1981, agents suspected of working for the Syrian secret service assassinated Louis Delamare, the French ambassador in Lebanon, in broad daylight in Beirut. In 1983, the two attacks against the U.S. Marines and French paratroopers in Beirut were blamed on the Islamic Jihad (an early version of Hezbollah), which was tied to Iran and Syria. In the mid-1980s, Paris suffered a string of terrorist attacks that killed dozens and were linked directly or indirectly to groups with ties to Syria.

This may seem like ancient history, but the Assad regime has also made veiled threats against the West far more recently. Assad’s cousin, businessman Rami Makhlouf, warned in a New York Times interview: “Nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid anything happens to this regime. … They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone.”

It was another version of a favorite Syrian threat: We can help bring peace to the region, but ignore us at your own peril because we can cause havoc.

At the beginning of the uprising, Syria’s Grand Mufti threatened to send suicide bombers to Europe if Syria came under attack. There is nothing to indicate that the Syrian regime has any connection whatsoever to any of the attacks that recently occurred in Europe, but what dozens of French, Syrian, and Lebanese intellectuals point out in an open letter to Macron is that Assad helps create the environment in which radical groups and jihadis can thrive. Rehabilitating Assad only once again delays a sustainable solution to a problem that has now reached the shores of Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Trump paralyzed by unexpected encounter with Daft Punk

Donald Trump likes military parades but he wasn’t ready for this one on Bastille Day as he sat alongside his new friend, French president Emmanuel Macron, watching a French military band playing a Daft Punk medley:

 

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Why Macron is wrong about Assad

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: There is much to celebrate in Emmanuel Macron’s ascent to the French presidency. The election was a resounding defeat for the forces of reaction. Macron conducted himself with decency and intelligence and achieved his victory without submitting to the prevailing xenophobic impulse. In acknowledging France’s imperial excesses, in standing up to Vladimir Putin, and in resisting Donald Trump’s provocations, he seemed to herald a bold new politics that would align power with principle.

Since assuming power, however, Macron’s statements have been more equivocal. His recent comments on Syria suggest that in the balance between ideals and pragmatism, the president is leaning heavier on the latter. Speaking to the European press, Macron announced his break with past policy. “I haven’t said the deposing of Bashar al-Assad is a prerequisite for everything,” he said. “Because no one has introduced me to his legitimate successor!” Instead, he emphasised the need for “a political and diplomatic roadmap”; because, “We won’t solve the question only with military force.”

The cliche about military force would be meaningful, if it came from the party that is committed to military victory. But the monopoly on violence in Syria is held by the regime and its allies, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Together, they are responsible for over 90 percent of all civilian deaths. The West has deployed its military force primarily against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and al-Qaeda, and, occasionally, also against anti-Assad fighters (often indiscriminately). France has never confronted Assad; and only under Trump has the US tackled the regime in five rare instances, the most significant being the cruise missile strike on the Shayrat airbase after the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun. [Continue reading…]

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Macron’s California revolution

Sylvain Cypel writes: Among the many ideas put forward by Emmanuel Macron, the new French president, was to institute an annual speech to the French parliament, a sort of State of the Union à la française. It seems that he couldn’t wait more than ten days after the legislative elections to give it a try. On Monday, in a major speech in the French Parliament, Macron compared his election to a “new start” for a country that is “regaining optimism and hope”; he also introduced a raft of bold proposals for streamlining government. But even bolder than his proposals was the speech itself, and the American-style executive it seemed to usher in.

Along with the speech, there has been Macron’s quasi-official investiture of his wife, Brigitte, as a highly visible First Lady. And then there are the market-driven economic policies he has endorsed. All this has seemed—from the French point of view—emblematic of Macron’s fascination with the United States. Or to be more exact, with the California version of the United States, where Silicon Valley libertarianism mixes with a general progressivism on social issues—access to education and health care, openness to immigration and minorities, support for gay marriage, efforts to control climate change, etc. Didn’t he declare, on June 15, visiting VivaTech, a technological fair, that he intends to transform France in “a nation of start-ups” able to “attract foreign talents”?

Among other proposals announced on Monday, Macron said he planned to reduce by one third the number of representatives and senators in parliament, while offering them bigger staffs to make their work more “fluid” and “efficient.” He wants to abolish parliamentary immunity, so that ministers of the government and members of parliament will remain “accountable for their acts” and can be judged just like normal citizens by regular courts during their mandate. He also wants to lift the current state of emergency by fall, following the passage of a new antiterrorist law. Last but not least, he announced that he will indeed come back once a year to address the Parliament.

It was stunning: a man with hardly any political past or party apparatus rising to win the presidency—and then a vast majority in the National Assembly. It was the French electoral system, a legacy of General de Gaulle, with its two-round voting system, that allowed Macron to pull this off. That system, which emphasizes stability over political fairness, strongly favors the leading party: with only 28.2 percent of the votes in the first round of the legislative elections, the macroniens managed to get 60 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. [Continue reading…]

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French shift on Syria could open doors in Russia

Igor Delanoe writes: In a recent interview with the European press, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron outlined some of the key principles that shape his foreign policy regarding Europe, the Middle East and Russia. Macron, who assumed office May 14, is ready to tackle security issues stemming from Middle East instability. His approach may pave the way for a greater convergence between Paris and Moscow.

The June 21 interview at Elysee Palace came three days after the victory of his centrist/liberal political movement, La Republique en Marche, in legislative elections.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met June 20 with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow. They discussed Syria and Ukraine in an atmosphere depicted as constructive by the French press, which emphasized that the objective of Le Drian’s visit was to alleviate tensions with Moscow on key international issues. The trip was a follow-up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Versailles less than a month earlier. [Continue reading…]

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France’s Macron says sees no legitimate successor to Syria’s Assad

Reuters reports: President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he saw no legitimate successor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and France no longer considered his departure a pre-condition to resolving the six-year-old conflict.

He said Assad was an enemy of the Syrian people, but not of France and that Paris’ priority was fighting terrorist groups and ensuring Syria did not become a failed state.

His comments were in stark contrast to those of the previous French administration and echo Moscow’s stance that there is no viable alternative to Assad.

“The new perspective that I have had on this subject is that I have not stated that Bashar al-Assad’s departure is a pre-condition for everything because nobody has shown me a legitimate successor,” Macron said in an interview with eight European newspapers.

“My lines are clear: Firstly, a complete fight against all the terrorist groups. They are our enemies,” he said, adding attacks that killed 230 people in France had come from the region. “We need everybody’s cooperation, especially Russia, to eradicate them.” [Continue reading…]

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America in retreat, Europe en marche

Sylvie Kauffmann writes: As British conservatives licked their wounds a week ago, and French voters were electing hundreds of rookies to Parliament to strengthen the hand of President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainians at last had a reason to celebrate — and they did, partying by the thousands in Kiev. For them, June 11 was the dawn of the long-awaited era of visa-free travel to Europe. One local magazine called it “Ukraine’s Berlin Wall moment.”

This event, little noticed in the midst of so many political upheavals, is a fresh sign that Europe is moving forward. Giving some 45 million Ukrainians the right to travel freely through the 26 countries of the Schengen area is something of an achievement at a time when, across the European Union, the word “immigration” sounds like a recipe for electoral disaster.

Don’t expect European Union leaders to boast about it; that is not something they are good at. Yet a new mood is taking hold in Brussels and other European capitals these days, a wind of hope and optimism rarely felt in the last two decades.

After so many existential crises, believers in the European Union are suddenly waking up to realize that the reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. The eurozone has not collapsed. Britain’s exit, which shocked and destabilized the union a year ago, is now perceived as an opportunity for the 27 remaining members to regroup. [Continue reading…]

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Outside Britain, the mood in the EU is on the upswing

Natalie Nougayrède writes: That Helmut Kohl, the man who oversaw the reunification of Germany and was for so long a giant on the European stage, should die on the eve of negotiations leading to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU seems symbolic. The former German chancellor made the best of the extraordinary circumstances and public mood that followed the collapse of communism and the opening up of eastern Europe.

Today’s European leaders are, by contrast, confronted with an especially adverse set of circumstances. Trump, Putin, Erdoğan, terrorism, unprecedented flows of migration, unemployment, the rise of populism and, of course, Brexit. But, just as Kohl and his French contemporary François Mitterrand relaunched the European project in the early 1990s, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are, as Britain prepares to leave, readying their ambitions and vision for the continent.

At stake is no less than Europe’s role in defending liberal democratic values and a rules-based international order at a time when – as one former Obama administration official put it to me recently – Trump’s America is “missing in action and the UK is disappearing into oblivion”. The words may be harsh, but they underscore that Britain’s central weakness lies not only in its internal political confusion – but also with a dangerous ignorance of what its European neighbours are setting their sights on.

The Franco-German engine is not focusing on Brexit but rather on consolidating the 60-year-old European project through further integration and cooperation. At the heart of this stands an emerging Macron-Merkel deal, intended to act as Europe’s new powerhouse. On 15 May, the French and German leaders met and spoke of a new “roadmap” for the EU. The thinking goes like this: in the next two to three years, as France carries out structural economic reforms to boost its credibility, Germany will step up much-needed European financial solidarity and investment mechanisms, and embrace a new role on foreign policy, security and defence. [Continue reading…]

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France polls: Macron’s party wins clear parliamentary majority

BBC News reports: French President Emmanuel Macron’s party has won a clear parliamentary majority, results show, weeks after his own presidential victory.
With nearly all votes counted, his La République en Marche, alongside its MoDem allies, won more than 300 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly.

The winning margin is lower than some expected, with turnout down from 2012.

The party was formed just over a year ago, and half of its candidates have little or no political experience.

The result has swept aside all of the mainstream parties and gives the 39-year-old president a strong mandate in parliament to pursue his pro-EU, business-friendly reform plans. [Continue reading…]

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France’s new president won’t be shy about using military power

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes: Macron has given many more signals that he intends to be a hawkish commander-in-chief, and one that will act first and seek alliances later. Alongside trade, the first item on the agenda of his first bilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was strengthened defense and nuclear cooperation, a move that reflects France’s strategic ambitions in the Pacific (where it has a significant presence through its overseas territories) rather than its NATO or EU commitments.

But the most telling sign came in a little-noticed moment during his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their first meeting. Asked about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Macron responded, “there is a very clear red line on our side,” a blatant dig at Barack Obama’s refusal to enforce that red line. What’s more, he added, “any use of chemical weapons will be met with reprisals and a counterstrike, at least from the French.”

The message wasn’t just intended for Moscow and Damascus, but for Washington, Brussels and Berlin as well: France will act when it must, alone if it must. [Continue reading…]

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Emmanuel Macron says door to remain in EU is open to Britain

The Guardian reports: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has claimed the door to the EU will remain open to Britain during Brexit negotiations that get underway next week.

In remarks that will be taken as an encouraging sign by opponents of a hard Brexit that there may be room for compromise, the newly elected French leader said the decision to leave the EU could still be reversed if the UK wished to do so.

Speaking in the gardens of the Élysée Palace in Paris in a joint press conference with Theresa May, Macron made it clear that he respected the sovereign decision of the British people. However, he added: “Until negotiations come to an end there is always a chance to reopen the door.”

And Macron suggested that time was of the essence, saying: “As the negotiations go on it will be more and more difficult to go backwards.” [Continue reading…]

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Emmanuel Macron’s parliamentary victory marks the return of the experts

Hugo Drochon writes: In putting together a government that includes ministers from the left, centre and right, Macron has stuck to his mantra of being beyond “left and right”. He also achieved his goal of gender parity, although Sylvie Goulard is the only female senior minister, in charge of defence, and her task will be to deepen EU military co-operation, which has already been met with some success.

Goulard, a pro-European centrist MEP and one of the first to rally to Macron, was tipped to be his Prime Minister after Macron had hinted that he would have liked a female PM. But in the end, Macron appointed the Mayor of Le Havre, Edouard Philippe, a moderate right-winger close to the former Republican PM Alain Juppé. Like Goulard and the economics minister Bruno Le Maire, Philippe speaks fluent German – a clear signal to Berlin that Macron wants to renew the Franco-German axis. Like Macron, Goulard, Philippe and Le Maire went to the elite school of national administration.

Another goal was to have half his cabinet drawn from civil society, something Macron also succeeded in doing. Perhaps his biggest catch was the environmental activist Nicolas Hulot, who became the minister for the environment – a position he had previously refused under previous presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. But it also includes a former health authority chief Agnès Buzyn as health minister, the head of a French publishing house, Françoise Nyssen, as culture minister, and an Olympic fencing champion Laura Flessel, from the French island of Guadeloupe, as sports minister. [Continue reading…]

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Merkel’s hoped-for G-20 climate alliance is fracturing

Der Spiegel reports: German Chancellor Angela Merkel had actually thought that Canada’s young, charismatic prime minister, Justin Trudeau, could be counted among her reliable partners. Particularly when it came to climate policy. Just two weeks ago, at the G-7 summit in Sicily, he had thrown his support behind Germany. When Merkel took a confrontational approach to U.S. President Donald Trump, Trudeau was at her side.

But by Tuesday evening, things had changed. At 8 p.m., Merkel called Trudeau to talk about how to proceed following Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. To her surprise, the Canadian prime minister was no longer on the attack. He had switched to appeasement instead.

What would be wrong with simply striking all mentions of the Paris Agreement from the planned G-20 statement on climate, Trudeau asked. He suggested simply limiting the statement to energy issues, something that Trump would likely support as well. Trudeau had apparently changed his approach to Trump and seemed concerned about further provoking his powerful neighbor to the south.

The telephone call made it clear to Merkel that her strategy for the G-20 summit in early July might fail. The chancellor had intended to clearly isolate the United States. at the Hamburg meeting, hoping that 19 G-20 countries would underline their commitment to the Paris Agreement and make Trump a bogeyman of world history. A score of 19:1.

If even Trudeau is having doubts, though, then unity among those 19 is looking increasingly unlikely. Since then, the new formula has been to bring as many countries as possible together against one.

The first cracks began appearing on the Thursday before last. After returning from the G-7 summit in the Sicilian town of Taormina, Merkel had sent a clear signal to her team: “We have to stay together, we have to close ranks.”

But even before Trump announced the American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement that evening in the White House Rose Garden, it had become clear in Berlin that they would miss their first target. Led by the Italian G-7 presidency, the plan had been for a joint reaction to Trump’s withdrawal, an affirmation from the remaining six leading industrial nations: We remain loyal to Paris.

Suddenly, though, Britain and Japan no longer wanted to be part of it. British Prime Minister Theresa May didn’t want to damage relations with Trump, since she would need him in the event of a hard Brexit, the Chancellery surmised last week. And given the tensions with North Korea, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe couldn’t put his country’s alliance with the U.S. at risk. In other words: Climate policy is great, but when it comes to national interests, it is secondary. [Continue reading…]

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Macron’s takeover of French politics is all but complete

The Associated Press reports: Emmanuel Macron’s takeover of French politics is all but complete. The newly elected French leader’s gamble that voters wanted to throw out old faces and try something new is paying off in full — first by giving him the presidency and, on Sunday, the crucial first step toward securing the legislative power to deliver on his pledge of far-reaching change.

As when voters turned the previously unelected Macron into France’s youngest president last month, Sunday’s first round of voting in two-stage legislative elections again brought stinging black eyes to traditional parties that, having monopolized power for decades, are being utterly routed by Macron’s political revolution.

His fledgling Republic on the Move! — contesting its first-ever election and fielding many candidates with no political experience at all — was on course to deliver him a legislative majority so crushing that Macron’s rivals fretted that the 39-year-old president will be able to govern France almost unopposed for his full five-year term.

Record-low turnout, however, took some shine off the achievement. Less than 50 percent of the 47.5 million electors cast ballots — showing that Macron has limited appeal to many voters.

Macron intends to set his large and likely pliant cohort of legislators, all of them having pledged allegiance to his program, to work immediately. He wants, within weeks, to start reforming French labor laws to make hiring and firing easier, and legislate a greater degree of honesty into parliament, to staunch the steady flow of scandals that over decades have eroded voter trust in the political class.

With 94 percent of votes counted, Macron’s camp was comfortably leading with more than 32 percent — putting it well ahead of all opponents going into the decisive second round of voting next Sunday for the 577 seats in the lower-house National Assembly.

Macron’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, confidently declared Sunday night that the second round vote would give the assembly a “new face.”

“France is back,” he said.

Pollsters estimated that Macron’s camp could end up with as many as 450 seats — and that the opposition in parliament would be fragmented as well as small. [Continue reading…]

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Angela Merkel hopes to forge an international alliance against Trump

Der Spiegel reports: Many had thought that Trump could be controlled once he entered the White House, that the office of the presidency would bring him to reason. Berlin had placed its hopes in the moderating influence of his advisers and that there would be a sharp learning curve. Now that Trump has actually lived up to his threat to leave the climate deal, it is clear that if such a learning curve exists, it points downward.

The chancellor was long reluctant to make the rift visible. For Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, the alliance with the U.S. was always more than political calculation, it reflected her deepest political convictions. Now, she has — to a certain extent, at least — terminated the trans-Atlantic friendship with Trump’s America.

In doing so, the German chancellor has become Trump’s adversary on the international stage. And Merkel has accepted the challenge when it comes to trade policy and the quarrel over NATO finances. Now, she has done so as well on an issue that is near and dear to her heart: combating climate change.

Merkel’s aim is that of creating an alliance against Trump. If she can’t convince the U.S. president, her approach will be that of trying to isolate him. In Taormina, it was six countries against one. Should Trump not reverse course, she is hoping that the G-20 in Hamburg in July will end 19:1. Whether she will be successful is unclear.

Trump has identified Germany as his primary adversary. Since his inauguration in January, he has criticized no country — with the exception of North Korea and Iran — as vehemently as he has Germany. The country is “bad, very bad,” he said in Brussels last week. Behind closed doors at the NATO summit, Trump went after Germany, saying there were large and prosperous countries that were not living up to their alliance obligations.

And he wants to break Germany’s economic power. The trade deficit with Germany, he recently tweeted, is “very bad for U.S. This will change.”

Merkel’s verdict following Trump’s visit to Europe could hardly be worse. There has never been an open break with America since the end of World War II; the alienation between Germany and the U.S. has never been so large as it is today. When Merkel’s predecessor, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, refused to provide German backing for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, his rebuff was limited to just one single issue. It was an extreme test of the trans-Atlantic relationship, to be sure, but in contrast to today, it was not a quarrel that called into question commonly held values like free trade, minority rights, press freedoms, the rule of law — and climate policies. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s triumph of stupidity

Der Spiegel reports: Until the very end, they tried behind closed doors to get him to change his mind. For the umpteenth time, they presented all the arguments — the humanitarian ones, the geopolitical ones and, of course, the economic ones. They listed the advantages for the economy and for American companies. They explained how limited the hardships would be.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the last one to speak, according to the secret minutes taken last Friday afternoon in the luxurious conference hotel in the Sicilian town of Taormina — meeting notes that DER SPIEGEL has been given access to. Leaders of the world’s seven most powerful economies were gathered around the table and the issues under discussion were the global economy and sustainable development.

The newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, went first. It makes sense that the Frenchman would defend the international treaty that bears the name of France’s capital: The Paris Agreement. “Climate change is real and it affects the poorest countries,” Macron said.

Then, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded the U.S. president how successful the fight against the ozone hole had been and how it had been possible to convince industry leaders to reduce emissions of the harmful gas.

Finally, it was Merkel’s turn. Renewable energies, said the chancellor, present significant economic opportunities. “If the world’s largest economic power were to pull out, the field would be left to the Chinese,” she warned. Xi Jinping is clever, she added, and would take advantage of the vacuum it created. Even the Saudis were preparing for the post-oil era, she continued, and saving energy is also a worthwhile goal for the economy for many other reasons, not just because of climate change.

But Donald Trump remained unconvinced. No matter how trenchant the argument presented by the increasingly frustrated group of world leaders, none of them had an effect. “For me,” the U.S. president said, “it’s easier to stay in than step out.” But environmental constraints were costing the American economy jobs, he said. And that was the only thing that mattered. Jobs, jobs, jobs.

At that point, it was clear to the rest of those seated around the table that they had lost him. Resigned, Macron admitted defeat. “Now China leads,” he said.

Still, it is likely that none of the G-7 heads of state and government expected the primitive brutality Trump would stoop to when announcing his withdrawal from the international community. Surrounded by sycophants in the Rose Garden at the White House, he didn’t just proclaim his withdrawal from the climate agreement, he sowed the seeds of international conflict. His speech was a break from centuries of Enlightenment and rationality. The president presented his political statement as a nationalist manifesto of the most imbecilic variety. It couldn’t have been any worse. [Continue reading…]

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France’s Emmanuel Macron: Birth of the anti-Trump?

Hugh Schofield writes: Emmanuel Macron has just won the rare distinction of being the most re-tweeted French person in history.

In less than 24 hours, his Trump-defying message “make our planet great again” was shared more than 140,000 times, easily ousting the previous record-holder, the rather less high-minded TV presenter Cyril Hanouna. One fifth of the re-tweets were in the US.

It is proof yet again that what we witnessed from the Elysee on Thursday was a master class in communications.

In giving his TV reaction to the US president, not only did Macron break brazenly with longstanding convention, according to which French presidents never speak publicly in English, but he even had the chutzpah to subvert the US leader’s personal campaign slogan.

“Make our planet great again” was a provocation dressed up as a call to virtue. As a catchphrase for the faithful, it was irresistible.

By tweeting it, Macron took one more step down his road to investiture as that long-awaited international figure: the anti-Trump. Continue reading…]

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France’s President Macron appeals to Americans to ‘make our planet great again’

 

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