In June 2019, history is giving the world leaders another reason to hold a meeting: the 75th anniversary of the D-day Landings. On both sides of the English Channel, a celebration is being prepared, where the main guest will be US President Donald Trump. However, as often happens at meetings of this kind, the US Commander-in-Chief and his European counterparts will discuss today’s affairs rather than past events. It is easy to predict at least two sets of topics which will dominate talks on the margins of the American-British-French commemoration.
First, Trump will bring up the tough questions of trade and economics. Taking into account the permanent disputes over duties on steel, aluminium, agricultural products and civil aviation, the United States and Europe have much to discuss in these areas. There’s more recent news: General Electric, which acquired the Alstom energy business several years ago, is to cut 1,000 of its jobs in France (the French government has tried to prevent it). Above all these contradictions, there is a topic, which has the highest priority among the American leadership, and takes into account security considerations as well: competition with China. At the meeting in Normandy, Donald Trump is most likely to try pressuring his European partners, so that they nevertheless join the US line and begin to restrain Beijing by all possible means. In particular, this concerns the crisis around Huawei, because Britain and France have not yet refused to cooperate with this company, as Washington instructed. John Bolton, the US National Security Adviser, emphasised that although London “is becoming aware of the threats” from Huawei, it is still hesitating to take any final decision. That means that the US President definitely has a reason to convey his position to the European allies once again.
As the recent leaks, which cost Secretary of Defence Gavin Williamson his post revealed, Theresa May generally agreed to cooperate with partners in China to develop the 5G network for the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, she is about to leave her post, whereas the next prime minister, whoever he will be, may agree with Washington. Choosing an alternative to Huawei communications networks could be fortuitous as well, because it allows the UK to preserve its membership in the Five Eyes, the alliance of Anglo-Saxon intelligence services, which has seen its unity questioned due to the technological rivalry with China.
As for French President Emmanuel Macron, he immediately took a distinct position in the current crisis, saying that the Fifth Republic will not follow the US regarding Huawei. This is another item to add to the long list of contradictions between Macron and Trump, which has consistently expanded since their first meeting in July 2017. At the same time, it is unlikely that the French leader will sacrifice his contacts with the US – in the intelligence sphere, for example, due of the situation with the Chinese corporation. Therefore, in the negotiations on June 5-6, he is certainly going to try finding some arguments to indicate his opinion without irritating Trump too much.
The second set of issues worth discussing will likely pertain to Middle Eastern affairs: Syria, possibly Libya, but first of all, the Persian Gulf. The US State Department would like to see European countries join the pressure that Washington is trying to exert on Iran without any reservations on their part. Great Britain and France have strong ties of their own with Tehran’s opponents in the region, the Gulf monarchies. They are also present in this zone through military bases. These two allies could help amplify the US’s power. However, if Trump usually criticises the British for their “insufficient” efforts to contain Iran, France does not seek any confrontation in the Gulf at all. Paris realises that any military clash will:
a) Put at risk the French citizens living there and, more broadly, the Francophones. According to the official figures, in Qatar, for example, they number about 200,000;
b) Force France to send its military to the region, because since the mid-1990s the Fifth Republic has been bounded by obligations to Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE;
c) Have a negative impact on the French and European economies in the form of a sharp increase in oil prices;
d) Postpone any economic cooperation between France and Iran, which was beginning to come to life in 2015-2017 with regard to the aviation, oil and gas industries, though it has slowed down as a result of the new restrictive US measures.
Thus, Macron is most likely to try convincing Donald Trump not to take tough new measures against Iran and to offer the Americans to return to the spirit of the “nuclear deal”. Nevertheless, if the French leader is too insistent, the American side has already prepared an answer, which are the sanctions against the European mechanism of economic settlements with Iran (INSTEX).
In general, we could assume that the forthcoming meeting is unlikely to bring any dramatic changes in attitudes and roles within the American-British-French triangle. Washington and Paris will remain the main contenders: the former will try to impose its own point of view unilaterally, while the latter will draw historical parallels between the unity of the three countries 75 years ago and the need to find the same unity today. In turn, London will hold an intermediate position for the time, waiting for the changing of the guard at 10 Downing Street.