Atlantic : What is the degree of economic dependence, technological and military, from France to the United States ?
Guillaume Lagane : France and the United States are trading partners and states of the Western world so they have many economic and political ties.. France's dependence on the USA has two aspects. The first is economic. France's trade with the Americans is important. On the average of the last five years, this corresponds to almost a billion euros every day of trade flows. We can recall that the French State has a trade surplus with the United States. It exports approximately for 40 billion euros worth of goods and imports around 30 billion. The surplus is particularly in the agri-food sector. When we look at the American states involved in this trade, New York and California buy the most French products. In contrast, the one that exports the most to France is Texas with energy goods. We can therefore say that these trade flows constitute a first dependence of our country on America.. Even if the United States are secondary trading partners compared to European countries and particularly to Germany. It should also be noted that there is a significant flow of investment in France. There is more of 4 000 American companies present in the territory. This represents 500 000 jobs. This form of dependence is shared since the USA is interested in trade with France, by the investment of the French at home.
Besides this economic dependence, there is a particular aspect which is the military domain. The French State has a complete one since it is a European country which devotes the most means to its defense. He is capable of carrying out armed operations, like Barkhane in Africa. However, despite national independence, symbolized by the nuclear weapon, France is currently dependent on the United States to carry out long-term operations. In 2011, when we intervened in Libya, after two days the Americans had to intervene to destroy the anti-aircraft defenses. In Africa too, 80% of Operation Barkhane transport was provided by the Americans. Generally, when you buy American equipment, we find ourselves dependent on ITAR standards, which causes technological dependence.
Gilles Babinet : Technology is made up of five layers. First of all, raw materials (rare earths and others), then the production (microprocessors, etc.), then the stratum of networks (data centers, services cloud) and finally the stratum of platforms. And depending on the stratum the level of dependency is different. For rare earths for example, dependency is mainly Chinese and to a lesser extent African. The United States has intellectual property on all other strata. If on is expressed in terms of data, France's dependence on the United States is very strong. They concentrate a majority of data on a planetary scale. China, which is the second player, has mainly Chinese data. Apart from TikTok, penetration abroad is weak.
So France is in a situation of dependence, but a fitted outbuilding, negotiable. If we look at the GAFAM, the competition leaves them relatively quiet because it is considered that alternatives exist. There is more of 200 search engines around the world. Even less efficient, there are equivalents to Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook. There is no absolute dependence and the dynamic seems to me to be in a form of very slow rebalancing. If Europe reacts it could return to the race. But she doesn't do it enough. And the dynamic that would be needed for a French catch-up does not exist. On digital technologies, Europe and France are behind the United States in all areas, including quantum, despite beautiful European and French nuggets. Only ASML can claim technological leadership. For the rest, the United States has a significant technological mastery. And they have supremacy in terms of data, even if TikTok could threaten them in the medium term.
Are we capable today of being sovereign without the United States? ?
France remains politically sovereign. It is one of the member states of the Security Council possessing nuclear weapons., and has a military tool that few European countries can hold. France is also a country that matters economically. It is a founding member of the G7 and its GDP is the second in the EU. Now, in the big international game, in the face of giants like China, France is what is called a “great middle power”. It is no longer a State capable of having total sovereignty. To defend its positions in Asia, it must rely on alliances, including that of the United States. Furthermore, on the European continent itself, with what is happening in Ukraine, if the Americans had not intervened, the French could not have provided the means, equipment and intelligence that benefited the Ukrainian army. This singularly reduces our sovereignty.
What is our possible political influence ? Can we maximize it or is it capped by a glass ceiling ?
France is the first country to have recognized the independence of the United States since the revolution of 1776. We have established diplomatic relations in 1778, which was immediately followed by a trade treaty between the two countries. This initial contribution to American independence nurtured a very strong Francophilia in the United States.. In 1917, the Americans landed in Europe shouting : “Lafayette, here we are!”. So there is a very old relationship that is generally peaceful. France remains one of the only European countries that has not been in conflict with America, unlike all our big neighbors, from Germany to England via Spain or Italy. .
France therefore has an influence in Washington. However, this has been transformed from the Suez crisis into 1956. A European state like the United Kingdom has learned a lesson from this crisis : you should never distance yourself from the USA. It was necessary to be as close as possible to Washington to guide American decisions in favor of the United Kingdom. On his side, France has chosen a different path. With De Gaulle she made the choice of national independence, She is “ally of the United States but not aligned”. France has developed an independent diplomacy. Today, our influence in America rests on these two pillars : a historic friendship and a desire for independence. With the conflict in Ukraine, these shades still exist today.
There are two possible answers as to how to strengthen French influence in the United States.. Firstly, we must ensure that France is an increasingly capable and autonomous player. This requires a prosperous and stable country. Americans are always worried to see European countries won over by radicalism. From this point of view, France's choice to stay in the EU, unlike England, strengthened our influence. Then , be able to increase our defense capabilities, have a more modern and better equipped army, is a valued item in Washington. This makes France an important partner in Europe. The second aspect is to be able to have a close relationship between the leaders of the two countries. On this point, there were often significant differences, like the example of the war in Iraq with Jacques Chirac and Georges Bush. Today, we can say that Emmanuel Macron succeeded in establishing a relationship with the American administrations, despite difficulties with Donald Trump. However, the United States will simply see France as a useful partner. They will take into account the French policy according to the real weight of France. In the world of international relations, power and power ratios will manifest.
A dispute opposes the European Union and the United States on the’ Inflation Reduction Act. What levers, what means of pressure does France have ?
For me, the right policy in this matter is to first seek the European consensus and then to speak to the Americans from a common front. It is obvious that France does not have sufficient weight to influence American decisions.. The French economy represents 2% of world GDP while the United States is around the 20%. It is as if we were asking the question whether Belgium (0,5 % of world GDP) could influence the decisions of France. Very generally, in the national debate, we are particularly interested in the position of Germany and possibly Italy. I rarely see the Belgian positions debated in France. You have to be aware that seen from Washington, our country is a secondary player on the European scene. Germans dominate. And on the global aspect, the French state is not at the same level as China with the Americans. So, the right level to fight US protectionism is to bring this subject to the European level. France must seek with its partners a way of tackling the problem by being an ally. Today, the English have a lot of trouble with Brexit, as an isolated state, to defend their position with Washington. Their free trade agreement, promised by Brexiters, do not move. They are not considered a priority.
With regard to European divisions, should France play its own card or assert the weight of Europe to maximize its influence ?
It is a sovereignist position that can be defended, especially on defense issues. States tend to follow their own interests, whether in the defense industry or in the relationship with Washington. Some European countries have chosen to strengthen their partnership with the United States. Like Germany with the acquisition of the F-35 or Poland with the purchase of nuclear power plants of American origin. There is a temptation within each State to establish a “special relationship” British style with Washington, Hoping for better links. This is undoubtedly the meaning of this state visit undertaken by President Macron. However, seen from Washington as from Beijing, the stronger we are, the more respected you are.Chancellor Scholz was criticized for going to Beijing alone last month. Is it relevant to do the same with the United States??
There is a major interest in carrying European positions between all the Member States. For me, this is how we must understand the French project of European sovereignty or strategic autonomy. The idea is to build a European consensus on technological issues, digital, economic and military. This one would not be in order to cut itself off from the United States. Especially in the current climate with the war in Ukraine, and tomorrow against China, no country in Europe would be ready to break with the USA. In contrast, to defend European positions when they diverge from American interests, the right level remains the EU, with a dialogue with Washington through the EU.
With regard to France, historically there have already been Franco-American crises (the exit from NATO 1966, the criticisms of François Mitterrand on the cultural imperialism of the United States in 1982, the war in Iraq in 2003). The French State has therefore already marked its difference on several occasions. But at the same time, France is also the ally of the bad days. When the United States felt threatened, or during international crises, the Franco-American rapprochement was still taking place. I think of 11 september 2001 or just to the war in Ukraine. There may be times when France can assert its positions but it must remain cautious. Once again, we are not in a partnership of equals. The French state must agree to pursue a middle power policy.