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Macron Welcomed To The U.S. But Faces Political Challenges In France


In Washington, D.C., tonight, President Trump's first formal state dinner - the guests are French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte. Jambalaya is a feature on the menu, we are told. But for all the good food and goodwill Macron is enjoying, his visit is in many ways an escape from some political trouble back at home. Sylvie Kauffmann is editorial director of the French daily newspaper Le Monde, and she's with us on Skype.

Hi, Sylvie.


GREENE: So Emmanuel Macron was elected as a disruptor - I guess in that way, you could say like President Trump would describe himself. But they have differences. Macron has followed through with a lot of these changes at home, but strikes, protests - what are the French angry about?

KAUFFMANN: Macron knew that he was going to encounter resistance to his - you know, he's been pushing reforms at a really dizzying pace since he set foot in the Elysee Palace exactly almost a year ago. Actually, yesterday was the first anniversary of the first round of the presidential election. And he had it easy in a way at the beginning. He pushed the reform of the labor law first, which was very important. And I think people were still stunned by the result of the election, and there was no resistance that was done over the summer. But now he's on several front. He's really fighting on several fronts. He's pushing a reform of the national railway company, and that's where we are having quite a big strike. He's - there's a reform of the justice system, of the pension system, of admission system to universities. You know, he's really going on several fronts at the same times, hoping probably...

GREENE: A lot of reshaping all at once.

KAUFFMANN: Yeah - so hoping probably that the opposition would also be scattered, but in fact, it's now - I think he's meeting his moment of truth now. He's meeting all this resistance. But he's - as he said on Fox News in this interview the other - on Sunday, that he's standing firm. He doesn't want to give in. And, you know, he had this expression, no chance, which sounded a little bit like there is no alternative of Margaret Thatcher.

GREENE: Maybe some echoes there. Well, it - what about this moment with President Trump? I mean, he - Macron seems to really pride himself as being the only European leader with this easy rapport with the U.S. president. Does that...


GREENE: ...Friendship help him with voters at home?

KAUFFMANN: I'm not sure it's a friendship. He's not talking about President Trump as a friend. He never mentioned this. He never uses this word on the domestic scene, at least. You know, they are no buddies. I think around President Macron, his advisers were keen on pointing out that they are no buddies. But he...

GREENE: So rapport, but not friends.

KAUFFMANN: Yeah, exactly. But he's very happy to have this relationship, this close relationship and this working relationship with him because he wants to push his agenda on the global scene, and his agenda is a multilateralist one. He wants to keep the U.S. engaged within the international order. He doesn't want the U.S. to be isolated. And he also wants, as you've mentioned earlier, to keep this Iran deal working.

GREENE: Yeah, that's one of the things he's going to be talking to President Trump about. In the few seconds we have left, does he need to come home with something? Does he need to show that he was able to change Trump's mind on something?

KAUFFMANN: That would be - that would do him no harm, definitely. But I don't think it's a - you know, foreign policy is one thing, and domestic policy's another thing that's - you know, I think he - the French people are very much focused on what's going on at home right now.

GREENE: Sylvie Kauffmann is editorial director for the French daily newspaper Le Monde. She joined us from Paris this morning. We appreciate it, Sylvie.

KAUFFMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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