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Emmanuel Macron / Justin Trudeau: What’s Behind the Bromance? 3 Questions to Dominique Moïsi

Analyses - 20 April 2018

By Institut Montaigne

On 16-17 April, Justin Trudeau visited Emmanuel Macron during his first diplomatic trip to France. It is also the first time that a Canadian Head of State directly addressed the French National Assembly. What were the issues at stake in the meeting between these two men that the media like to compare so much? Do they really get along or are they simply allies against the rise of populism on the international scene? Dominique Moïsi shares his analysis. 

Would it be relevant to speak of “a special relationship” between Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau?

“Special” might be a bit of a strong word, however they do share the same age, empathy, charisma, and both confer a lot of importance to communications. They are both positioned at the center of the political spectrum and share a similar vision of the world, at least on the most essential points. Abroad, both are “multilateralists” and free traders. Yet is this sufficient to speak of a “special relationship”? Nothing could be less certain!

On the contrary, they might share more in terms of image than on ideas. It is indeed easy to discern a their communication strategy behind this so called “special relationship.” The goal for Macron is,prior to his official meeting with Donald Trump, to send the following message: “Make no mistake, I can differentiate the man I feel close to from the man I only have a good relationship with because of the ties our countries hold.” Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau is meeting difficulties in Canada, both because of his domestic policies and his disastrous official journey in India. He is therefore looking to bolster his image by shedding light on his “special relationship” with the French President, who benefits from a positive aura abroad, and who is presented as Europe’s “leader”. In a nutshell, the important thing for Emmanuel Macron is that Justin Trudeau is not Donald Trump, while the important thing for Justin Trudeau is that Emmanuel Macron is Emmanuel Macron.

What conclusions can be drawn from Justin Trudeau’s visit to France?

The two men reaffirmed their agreement on two crucial issues: free trade, and more importantly the CETA - widely criticized in France by many political groups, yet defended by Emmanuel Macron - but also climate change. 

Regarding this last point, this visit was a way to strengthen the pressure weighing on Washington and on Donald Trump. These men have had the strength to say out loud that, to Ottawa and Paris, the Paris Agreement is essential for the safeguard of our planet. Of course, the two young leaders also seek to win the heart of their countries’ environmentalists. By shedding light on the Paris Agreement, they reaffirm their engagement, sometimes questioned at home. 

Furthermore, Emmanuel Macron welcomed Justin Trudeau in France a week before his visit to the United States. He is clearly sending the following message: “The entire American continent matters to me, and despite my official visit to Washington, by welcoming warmly the Canadian Prime Minister in Paris, I prove that I am closer to Justin Trudeau than to Donald Trump.” 
For Justin Trudeau, his visit to Paris is a way of putting Canada under the spotlight and of proving that it can definitely play an important role on the international stage - more than what its size and economy might suggest. He thus seeks to become a gateway between East and West, Asia and Europe.

To what extent can we compare the way Macron and Trudeau exercise their political power?

The two men share common characteristics. Nevertheless, Emmanuel Macron has more “gravitas” than Justin Trudeau does. The French President often uses communications, just like his Canadian counterpart does, yet he endorses a historic and philosophical role that Justin Trudeau lacks. This is why, despite their similarities, and even genuine physical resemblance, the comparison between the two leaders quickly reaches its limits. 

Justin Trudeau’s advantage is that he preceded the French President in the accession to power and was thus able to represent, a the time of his election, a symbol of hope for the world and especially for Emmanuel Macron who, at the time, had not yet been elected. The lack of affection Justin Trudeau is currently facing could be a warning for Emmanuel Macron, who has only been in office for a year. Will Justin Trudeau’s fate foreshadow his once again?


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