If we look at things from a slightly higher perspective, three striking political results characterize the Biarritz meeting, in which once again we find Emmanuel Macron's personal mark.
- PROGRESS IN FRENCH MEDIATION ON IRAN
The contacts that the French President and his collaborators have multiplied with Tehran and Washington over the past few weeks (Mr. Zarif was received by Mr. Macron in Paris on the eve of the summit) have allowed favourable conditions under which a Trump-Rouhani meeting becomes possible in New York at the end of the month on the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly.
The presidential advisers are rightly very discreet and very cautious. It seems difficult for Rouhani to take the step of a meeting without minimal easing of American sanctions. Many other practical issues of this kind remain outstanding. What seems central is that Emmanuel Macron has understood that Mr. Trump wants to resume the discussion with Iran at one time or another: with Biarritz, this wish has somehow been made official. We can bet that the Iranians will also be forced to make a move. The role of Macronian diplomacy, in the first instance, is to ensure that both sides can move without either side losing face. If a "photo-opportunity" is indeed to take place in New York (Mr. Rohani's initial reactions are mixed), a huge amount of groundwork will have to be done, which French diplomacy could find a way to lead.
- PRESERVATION OF A MULTILATERAL APPROACH
The result seems limited on this point, although it should be remembered that, a year ago, the mere feasibility of a G7 summit was uncertain.
However, in this year 2019, as in previous years, the arrival of a number of leaders such as Mr Modi, Mr Kagamé, Mr Piñera, Mr Sissi, Mr Sall or Mr Kaboré, the concrete projects that have been launched or discussed, the staging of the Amazon fires affair - which has made it possible to force Trump to make common cause with his peers on a vital aspect of climate change management - all this shows that multilateral cooperation remains relevant. This Biarritz summit, so-called out-dated, has yet caused the whole planet to talk.
From then on, it is possible that the G7 will not survive its 2020 edition and that Donald Trump will explode this specific "format". It is not excluded that the American President may nevertheless find sufficient interest in the exercise to ensure its sustainability. Nor can we completely rule out the possibility that a Democrat will succeed the current tenant of the White House in 2021. In this case, Macronian diplomacy, on the same line as that of the other G7 members, will have had the merit of getting the summit through difficult times and of preserving a forum that constitutes one of the cogs of the delicate mechanics of international cooperation and that is all the more important at a time when this mechanism is largely blocked or subjected to very strong pressures.
- STARTING TO ADDRESS THE RUSSIAN ISSUE
French commentators placed great emphasis on President Macron's explicit support to a dominant theme in the French establishment, shared by many, from Nicolas Sarkozy to Philippe de Villiers, Hubert Védrine, Dominique de Villepin, Jean-Pierre Chevènement etc.
According to this theme, Europe has made a strategic mistake by allowing Russia to move away, and to persist in this mistake would amount to pushing Russia into China's arms. Moreover, Russia would be at the heart of most of the crises - Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Ukraine – which would be impossible to resolve without it. Hubert Védrine is outraged that we have worse relations with today's Russia than with the USSR at the end of the Cold War: he does not draw the conclusion that the last Soviet leaders may have had more consideration, or at least more interest, in Europe than the current head of the Kremlin, but that the burden of proof lies with Europeans. What levers do democracies have at their disposal to send signs of reconciliation to a country that still holds Ukrainian sailors, supports the separatists in Ukraine, which it has amputated of part of its territory, lightly bombards civilian populations in Syria, and has more or less reduced the United Nations Security Council to impotence?
Russia's return to the Council of Europe in the spring was one of these signals of reconciliation. A more spectacular gesture would be its reintegration into the G7, which would become the G8 again. It happens to be Mr. Trump's wish anyway. Mr Macron cannot be blamed for having conducted a round table discussion on the issue in Biarritz: only the Italian President of the Council supported Donald Trump's position. Emmanuel Macron got away with one of these summary motions, which is the eternal charm of the most classic diplomacy: Russia's candidacy could be reconsidered if progress is made on the Ukrainian file (in one of his press conferences, he also mentioned the need for progress on the Skripal case, probably under pressure from the British delegation). A summit in the so-called "Normandy" format (Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine) will be organised very soon. It will be an important test.
This will not prevent President Trump from inviting Putin to next year's summit of the major industrialized democracies - but as a guest and not as a member of the group. A proper reintegration, according to Emmanuel Macron's thesis, requires a change in Moscow's behaviour, at least on the Ukrainian case.
French commentators have glossed over what they see as a turning point in Macronian diplomacy. Some have been struck by the fact that, on several occasions, notably during his speech to the Conference of Ambassadors, in the great Festival Hall of the Elysée Palace, the President warned what he called the "deep state" against the usual out-of-season caution, particularly on this Russian subject. It is quite common under the Fifth Republic for the President of the Republic to show impatience in the face of "resistance" from the services (even if these are less formidable than overzealous zeal from the same services). Does Mr. Macron share the illusion of those who believe that simply "talking to the Russians" is enough for them to be cooperative? The fact is that, so far, his approach has been more cautious: he has made some symbolic gestures. He is ready to make others (travel to Moscow next year for the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Second World War). However, he expects concrete measures from Russia on Ukraine before going any further.