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Biden hosts French President Macron for the first state visit of his administration

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden is hosting his first state visit this week for his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. Relations between the U.S. and France are strong, but there are points of tension. France vocally challenges some U.S. policies where other European partners can be a little more subtle. But France's outspokenness also helps to explain why Paris is such a strong, old ally of Washington. For insight on what's at stake during Macron's first state visit, we turn to Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director of the German Marshall Fund's Paris office. Alexandra, first off, what do you think will be the No. 1 point of discussion between Biden and Macron?

ALEXANDRA DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, I think the energy and the trade agenda is going to be the No. 1. And President Macron will really serve as, if I can call him that way, the European special envoy to prepare the ground for the following Trade and Tech Council, which will actually take place, as well, in Washington on December 5. So there's a sort of diplomatic sequence where Macron will try to play a role trying to negotiate - but there are very little chances that he will get some - some limited exemptions for certain European industries, to the same way that Canadian and Mexican industries have been exempted from certain measures in the Inflation and Reduction Act. So that, I would say, is the top, I would say, difficult agenda. And then the second piece is Ukraine. And there, what I see happening is a (speaking French), a kind of a growing convergence between the U.S. and French perspectives when it comes to pushing Kyiv for negotiations, especially as we are entering the winter period.

MARTÍNEZ: That unofficial title you gave him - European special envoy - it seems like Macron, over the last few years, has really taken that and run with it. He seems to like to be in the center of the action. I remember his meetings with Vladimir Putin.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: That's also because, I would say, the European political landscape has truly changed after Brexit. You also have a Germany which is much more hesitant in the midst of what I would call a sort of identity crisis on many issues - its relation with Russia, its relation with China, its industrial policy, its energy dependencies. And so France, I would say by default, stands out as a key player in the European landscape and therefore as a key interlocutor for Washington. And that's why Macron finds himself, again, going as, you know, the first leader in the state visit to Washington.

MARTÍNEZ: Where do you see the biggest area of disagreement between Biden and Macron on how to deal with Russia and the invasion in Ukraine?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, I think this is where I see, really, a growing convergence. You know, if you listened to what John Kirby said yesterday, it was very revealing, you know, saying that he valued and applauded, to a certain extent, Macron's willingness to continue to speak and dialogue with Vladimir Putin. And so this is where I think France, on the Ukraine-Russia dossier, has an added value to say, you know, it might be useful for you, Washington, that I play that sort of diplomatic in-between role, such as in the Indo-Pacific. You know, France has this idea of portraying itself as a balancing power or third way in the U.S.-China competition. And this is also a way for Macron to say, you know, we're not taking a different position from the American position vis-a-vis China, but we are offering you a parallel track, a complementary tract, that Americans might indeed find very helpful in the competition with China.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, state dinners tend to include a lot of pomp and circumstance. There's that elaborate dinner at the White House. I mean, what talk actually gets done during these state visits? Why do they matter, Alexandra?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, they do matter because, I mean, in France's case, I would qualify France as a rigorous ally of the United States. And you said it in your introduction rightly. France is a challenging partner for the United States and therefore, I would say, an even more important, crucial partner for Washington. It says out loud what other European partners think and is also very vocal about U.S.-European disagreements. So what I expect in the Biden-Macron conversation is, in fact, a very direct and frank conversation.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer - directs the German Marshall Fund's Paris office. Thank you.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.