France is America's first and oldest ally, offering crucial support -- both financial and military -- during our Revolution.
During the 20th century, Americans fought and died on French soil in both World Wars. And now, once again, the old allies find themselves in a dynamic and dangerous moment with yet another war being fought in Europe.
This time, the French President is Emmanuel Macron, the youngest ever, who is striving to enhance France's role in the world, while navigating divisions at home and relations with the U.S. strained by energy, trade, and defense issues. We spoke with him Thursday at Blair House during his state visit to Washington with President Joe Biden. Earlier in the week, we met the French President in Paris at the Elysee Palace.
Bill Whitaker: Bonsoir Monsieur le Président.
We met president Emmanuel Macron as he was preparing for his second state visit to Washington, D.C. - his first with President Joe Biden.
The setting could not have been grander, French presidents have run affairs of state from the Elysee Palace since Napoleon III in 1848. This room, the Golden Salon, was a favorite of Napoleon III and his wife, Eugenie.
Emmanuel Macron: You can see the E & N is for Eugenie and Napoleon.
Bill Whitaker: How about that?
Today, it's the French equivalent of the Oval Office.
Emmanuel Macron: And since de Gaulle, the office of the French president is here. And this is where I work.
Bill Whitaker: This is magnificent.
Emmanuel Macron: And by the way, this is something I got from my first state visit: this key is the key.
Bill Whitaker: To the Bastille?
Emmanuel Macron: To the Bastille. And it was brought by Lafayette.
Bill Whitaker: To the Americans?
Emmanuel Macron: To George Washington. As you know, because Lafayette was very much involved in the American Revolution. And the original is in the U.S. by the way. This is just a copy for me.
Emmanuel Macron is very much an original - a centrist determined to shake up the status quo. Seven months into his second term, he has survived massive street protests over high costs and taxes, fought off tough electoral challenges from the right and the left yet exudes an air of youthful optimism.
Bill Whitaker: At 44 you are the senior leader of Europe. Is that a comfortable fit?
Emmanuel Macron: Yes, because you can have both experience and energy.
Since February much of his energy has been focused on the war in Ukraine. From the U.S. it can feel a world away. From Macron's vantage point, it's a wildfire in the neighborhood.
Emmanuel Macron: Russia decided, 24th February this year to launch this war. I think they made a huge-- a huge mistake. The first one was not to respect international law and-- and-- and to breach all the principles they-- they did sign. And-- and this is a killer for their credibility. And second, because probably they made a lot of mistakes in terms of assessment of their own capacities and the Ukrainian capacities. And now what happens is, since, let's say, September they decided to bomb a lot of civilian infrastructures. And their perspective is to despair Ukrainian people and to make their life impossible during this wintertime.
Bill Whitaker: You have said that attacking civilian infrastructures is a war crime.
Emmanuel Macron: This is a war crime.
President Macron had hoped to prevent all of this with his own shuttle diplomacy this past winter, flying to Moscow to meet one-on-one with President Vladimir Putin.
Bill Whitaker: And it seemed that you thought you could talk him out of this.
Emmanuel Macron: Indeed, this is true. I thought that it was feasible to avoid the war at the time.
Still, Emmanuel Macron has been determined to keep an open dialogue with President Putin.
Emmanuel Macron: I always maintain regular discussions and direct contact with President Putin, because-- I believe that the best way to-- to reengage is to preserve this direct channel. Isolation is-- is the worst thing, especially for-- a leader like him.
Bill Whitaker: Isolation?
Emmanuel Macron: Isolation.
Bill Whitaker: Already, the war has caused food and energy prices to sky-rocket. How long can the open-ended western support of Ukraine go on?
Emmanuel Macron: I think it's extremely important that all of us, meaning European, Americans, and-- the maximum number of countries in this world do support Ukraine. It's clear that Russia, and especially President Putin, decided to weaponize at least energy and food, creating a lot of-- shortages, volatility, and inflation. And I think his bet is a war fatigue and a sanction fatigue.
Bill Whitaker: So how does this end?
Emmanuel Macron: I think it's important to convey the message that this is the Ukrainians to decide it, the only way to find a solution would be through negotiations. I don't see a military option on the ground.
The French president approaches diplomacy and politics with a cool logic, yet often generates heat. On the eve of his trip to Washington he told us he'd be direct with President Biden, like he was when they met early in Mr. Biden's presidency.
Bill Whitaker: Mr. Biden said that, at his first G7 meeting as president, that he walked into the room and said, "The United States is back." And that you said, "But for how long?" Do you doubt that the United States is a consistent and reliable ally?
Emmanuel Macron: If I look at the 20th century, I have absolutely no reason to have any doubt about where the U.S. stands when our liberty and our values are at stake. But when you look at the recent period of time, some change of administration had big impact on climate change, on Iran, on some other issues.
Bill Whitaker: You mean the Trump administration?
Emmanuel Macron: I do. So my point is just I want us to be allies, I want us to be friends, I want us to be partners. I want to engage with the U.S. but I don't want to be dependent. And I think this is very important, because just imagine, on your side, would you accept as U.S. citizen to say, "My security, my-- my future will depend on an election in France?" No, I cannot imagine.
Bill Whitaker: You think there needs to be a re-sync of relations. How have relations been out of sync?
Emmanuel Macron: I think this administration and President Biden personally is very much attached to-- Europe. But when you look at the situation today, there is indeed a de-synchronization. Why? Energy. Europe is-- a gas and oil buyer. The U.S. is a producer. And when you look at the situation, our industries and our households are not buying at the same price. So there is a big gap impacting purchasing power and competitiveness of our societies.
With Russian natural gas drastically cut, Europe is buying more from the U.S., but at a price as much as six times what Americans pay. This, at a time when inflation and unemployment in France are hovering around 7%.
Bill Whitaker: You have said that's not how friends behave.
Emmanuel Macron: Yeah we are m-- very much engaged together in this war for the same principles. But the cost of this war is not the same-- on both sides of the Atlantic. And you should-- you should be very aware of that.
President Macron also points to the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, new legislation designed to grow green jobs in the U.S. with subsidies and tax credits for electric cars and clean energy manufacturing in North America.
Emmanuel Macron: But they are, at this very moment of the war, a killer for our industry--
Bill Whitaker: A killer for your industry?
Emmanuel Macron: For sure. The U.S. decided two and a half month ago to subsidize much more big, new, green projects, which means for battery, for hydrogen, for a lot of things. The level of subsidies is now two to three times higher in the U.S. than in Europe. We are totally aligned in this conflict. We work hard. And I think if the day after the conflict the result is to have a weaker Europe because a lot of its industry will have been just killed. I do believe it's not the interest of the U.S. administration and even the U.S. society. I think the main interest is obviously to protect your middle classes, which is a very fair one. I-- I do the same for my country. And it's to be competitive vis-à-vis China. But the result of the recent decision on this momentum, I would say, is it's bad for Europe.
President Macron brought those concerns to the White House this past Thursday.
After the pomp and pageantry, the two presidents retired to the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, discussed the problems of the world for two hours and emerged unified.
Joe Biden: France is one of our strongest partners. We share the same values and will address all challenges together.
After meeting with members of Congress and a half hour before racing off to the state dinner, President Macron talked with us at Blair House, the presidential guesthouse.
Bill Whitaker: As we were talking in Paris, you're a man who likes to be direct and look someone in the eye. So you're sitting across from President Biden. What did you tell him about the challenges the Inflation Reduction Act is inflicting on your country and your people?
Emmanuel Macron: We had a very good and frank and fruitful discussion. President Biden's intention is to make his country stronger, to create jobs here, to re-industrialize, and at the same time to address climate change issues, and to build more green industry in your country. I do share this objective. I do respect this objective. And guess what? I have exactly the same for my country.
Bill Whitaker: It sounded in the press conference like the two of you agreed to disagree or to at least keep talking. What we say in the United States is, it sounded like the two of you decided to kick the can down the road.
Emmanuel Macron: No. I don't think so, honestly speaking. It's not an agreement to disagree. This is a strategic agreement. And I think we do share now much more in depth our strategy on both sides.
Bill Whitaker: But you told us in Paris that the Inflation Reduction Act is an industry killer, a job killer.
Emmanuel Macron: For Europe.
Bill Whitaker: For Europe. And with unemployment and inflation in France hovering around 7%, it seems like this is urgent to get a resolution here.
Emmanuel Macron: I confirm. This is why I can tell you that what we decided with President Biden is precisely to fix this issue. And they are fixable.
Bill Whitaker: What can be fixed? He said he could think of some-- some tweaks.
Emmanuel Macron: Yes.
Bill Whitaker: Some tweaks. Is that enough?
Emmanuel Macron: My point is to say it was urgent to raise this issue. I did it. It was urgent to discuss in depth about it, which we did this morning together. It's urgent to fix it. We can do it.
Bill Whitaker: You are the senior politician in Europe right now. So when you go back to Europe-- what do you tell your European partners? Was this state visit a success?
Emmanuel Macron: Yes, definitely. Number one, because we did confirm our total alignment on the Ukrainian situation. Second, we had a very fruitful and in-depth discussion on this context IRA and the side effects. And we will fix it on the short run. Third, we had a lot of convergence on climate change, health, security in Africa and a lot of projects. So for me, this is a very good state visit with a lot of very positive outcomes, I can tell you.
Produced by Marc Lieberman and Cassidy McDonald. Broadcast associates, Eliza Costas and Natalie Breitkopf. Edited by Sean Kelly.
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