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Opinion: In times of conflict, national and global interests do often clash

French Proud National Day eagle holding flag

This is especially true for the US, whose regulatory decisions almost always affect the rest of the world

It is traditionally hard to reconcile one’s own interest with the common good, but in times of instability, this idea takes on a more compelling meaning.

As human beings, when facing danger, our natural coping mechanism is to withdraw into ourselves to counter external aggressions. The same logic applies to nations, which are often tempted to adopt protectionist strategies and measures when a crisis hits.

Then emerges the natural question of how far one can go when defending themselves without risking to jeopardise the safety and stability of others.

The stakes related to that question are even higher with a country such as the US: one of the largest nations on earth, whose influence on matters of energy, security and international peace is unmatched.

Last week, French president Emmanuel Macron paid a state visit to Washington DC. In an address to the local French community, he expressed concerns over the impact that two recent landmark bills in the US could have on the welfare of both his country and Europe at large.

“The choices that were made – the objectives of which I share, especially for the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act – are choices that are going to fragment the West,” said Macron. “Because they create such differences between the US and the EU, all those who work in certain businesses will no longer see any interest in investing on the other side of the [Atlantic] Ocean.”

Signed into law in August, the CHIPS and Science Act is due to provide $280 billion in funding to boost the domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors in the US, with plans to bolster production capacity, catalyse R&D and create regional high-tech hubs.

Meanwhile, the Inflation Reduction Act will aim to curb inflation in the US by reducing the deficit, lowering prescription drug prices, investing in domestic energy production and promoting clean energy. Of the total $739 billion in revenue set to be raised through these measures, $369 billion will be dedicated to energy security and climate change – the largest such investment in history.

“These laws may solve your problems, but they will make mine worse,” Macron reportedly told President Biden during his visit, calling the new measures “super-aggressive” for EU companies. One of the things the French president was hoping to secure for Europe was an exemption similar to those attributed to Mexico and Canada on the basis of existing trade agreements, which enable them to qualify for subsidies.

It is unclear at this stage whether the US will be willing to make such concessions for the old continent. Instead, reports suggested the US would prefer that Europe create its own subsidy regime for local industries and manufacturers – a project that has been evoked and referred by Macron to as the Buy European Act.

“These choices can only function if there is coordination between us, if we decide together and resynchronise; that is fundamental,” he added during his Washington speech. “We want to build a common agenda between France, Europe and the US, in the face of crises sparked off by the war [in Ukraine] – the food crisis, the energy crisis, and everything related to those. The goal of this visit is to reinitiate a strategic conversation to align our actions.”

What Europe wants to avoid at all costs, is being a collateral damage from the US’s race against China as to be the world’s most innovative and technologically advanced country. This idea lies at the heart of legislative enterprises such as the CHIPS Act.

The cost of Russia’s war against Ukraine’s hasn’t been the same on both sides of the Atlantic, and the US’s recent strategic policymaking has not been helpful to Europe’s recovery, Macron suggested. “What has happened over the past few months is a challenge, as there starts to be a shift between our energy policies,” he said.

As both Biden and Macron emphasised in their speeches, the US and France are old allies whose histories are closely intertwined through common events and values. The question is: how much value does an old ally hold in the face of a new enemy, and will it be enough to convince the eagle to help the ol’ rooster?