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April 24, 2018

Macron and Trump - more than just a show?

Emmanuel Macron is on a two-day state visit in Washington, the first world leader to receive this prestigious honour from Donald Trump. So far we have seen many symbols and pictures celebrating this special relationship, a dinner on Mount Vernon - George Washington's home, where the key to the Bastille hangs in the entrance hall - and a warm French-style welcome with kisses on both cheeks. 

But on substance the two men are still apart on a number of topics, in particular on the Iran nuclear deal where the differences seem irreconcilable according to Les Échos. Expectations are also not very high on other contentious issues, such as convincing Trump to revert his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, or keeping the US engaged in Syria. There are signs, though, that the US will help the EU out of its alumunium supply shortages caused by the US sanctions against Russian companies and oligarchs. According to the FT the US treasury already indicated that it could cut or lift the sanctions on Rusal, the second-largest producer in the world by output and on which European manufacturers are heavily dependent. The condition would be that Kremlin-linked billionaire Oleg Deripaska sold his 48% stake in the company. He previously held a majority stake in the company, but the reduction to 48% is clearly not enough for the US, but it is not clear whether the US wants him to divest of Rusal completely. Depending on who Deripasa sells to, it is also possible that the Kremlin could end up in total control of Rusal. But any relief will only come if Deripaska lets go of his control of the company, so the treasury. 

If this state visit is in any way successful, it would help Emmanuel Macron to establish himself as an international leader. America's isolationism, Germany's caution, EU divisions, and a distracted Britain, have created large opening for him to reassert France as a powerful player in the world of international diplomacy. It would also overshadow Angela Merkel’s own visit at the end of the week.

Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger makes the point in FAZ that the result of Macron's visit in Washington is the real test of his strategy to build a close personal relation with Trump. He is the only European leader to have do so. The omens are not all good. So far, Macron has not been able to persuade Trump to return to the Paris climate accord. And, if the steel and aluminium sanctions take effect and if the Iran nuclear deal collapses, the EU-US relationship will experience severe turbulence. Frankenberger also sees the risk of a divide-and-rule strategy by Trump: appease Macron and bully the Germans. 

The editorial in the Guardian sees parallels with Tony Blair's fate. It warns that, without real and concrete successes, Macron risks his reputation at home deteriorating later down the line just like Blair suffered the consequences of his special relationship with George W Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war fifteen years ago. 

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April 24, 2018

The politics behind the customs union discussion

There was a strong push-back yesterday from 10 Downing Street against the suggestions over the weekend that the British government would accept a customs union after all. There are obviously strong divisions inside the government, but Theresa May reiterated for the umpteenth time that the UK will not enter into a customs union with the EU. The issue has the potential to cause political damage, and could still derail the Brexit process in many ways. We see the most likely derailment scenario as a political crisis triggered by a rejection of the withdrawal agreement, followed by a Tory victory and a hard Brexit. This scenario is what may give the pro-customs-union Tory rebels pause for thought.

We agree with the comment by William Hague, who notes that the biggest danger of a pro-customs-union vote in the parliament would be an early election with Corbyn coming to power. This is why Labour has shifted to support an option that it really does not care much about otherwise. He warns the Tories not to fall into this bear trap. For the Tories there really is no viable alternative to the political course steered by Downing Street.

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