NOVEMBER 1, 2017


When visiting U.N. Headquarters to address the opening day of the General Assembly Debate, France's President Emmanuel Macron did not include an official meeting with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

There was earlier speculation about an absence of such a meeting in Paris, while the newly-elected Secretary-General visited neighbouring spots, particularly Geneva, but did not make it to Paris since newly-elected President Macron took over. It was thought that pending issues -- which seemed to reflect underlying distance over specific points of interest -- would be settled during the annual September gatherings in New York. However, President Macron's position remained obviously unchanged. Except for the usual courtesies at official occasions, no meeting was requested, listed, or arranged.

It was also noted that no senior French official attended a special meeting on Climate Change relating to the Paris Accord, chaired at the time by the highly-regarded Ms. Ségolène Royal. That sort of strained relationship is unusual. France is a Permanent Member of the U.N. Security Council, with veto rights. The Secretary-General is a former Prime Minister of Portugal, an essential member of the European Union, which -- indeed -- is represented in New York by a distinguished Portuguese diplomat.

As distance draws along, speculation continues. A veteran diplomat thought that Mr. Guterres may have under-estimated the young newly-elected French President who happens to feel not only very confident, but that his task is to regain a high perception of the French Presidency, along the lines of President de Gaulle. Taking U.S. President Trump in Paris to visit "Les Invalides" and Napoleon's tomb was not just a touristic attraction, but an indicative signal. On a particular issue, the Paris Accord, it was recalled that, previously, Ms. Royal had hoped to be appointed by Mr. Guterres as U.N.D.P. Administrator, was interviewed in New York for it, and seemed to believe she almost got it. The designation of a German diplomat took her -- and the father of her children, outgoing French President Hollande -- by surprise. "C'est la vie" was mainly a diplomatic expression of "Let's see."

President Macron, whose takeover was facilitated by Mr. Hollande and Ms. Royal, may have perceived it as a lack of attention to France's interests. Questions on other appointments, including the one on Peacekeeping, would be handled separately by regular French diplomats. Along with the distance by the President of France, Ms. Royal did not show up for the Climate Change meeting on the eve of the U.N. General Debate. It was left to Secretary-General Guterres to read a prepared statement very quickly (with none of the usual hand gestures) to a limited number of distinguished American personalities. As mentioned in an earlier issue, it was the Paris Accord without Paris.

In the interest of the U.N., as well as of France, it is hoped that certain steps would be taken to clear the air before it gets too late. A meeting on 30 October between Secretary-General Gutuerres and France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was in New York in connection with his Country's Presidency of the Security Council, could be a move forward. Would certain requirement eventually lead to one with the President? As always, the right time is right now.