Credit squeeze: Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron get to grips with ‘a moment of truth’. Picture: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Credit squeeze: Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron get to grips with ‘a moment of truth’. Picture: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

This is how it went down: US President Donald Trump and France’s newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, met in Brussels. The stage was set with French and US flags, and the two leaders reached out to each other for a handshake.

But it was to be no ordinary handshake. For one thing, it went on and on. And Trump attempted on at least two occasions to pull out of the shake, but his fingers were in Macron’s vice and the shaking continued.

Afterwards, there was a moment of truly French politics, with Macron explaining to the Journal du Dimanche: "My handshake with him, it’s not innocent. It’s not the alpha and omega of politics, but a moment of truth. We must show that we will not make small concessions, even symbolic ones."

Reuters reporter Steve Holland observed: "The photogs noticed that Trump and Macron were gripping their hands hard ... Trump [seemed] to just want his hand back."

So, what did it all mean? One explanation would be that Trump wanted a brief and meaningless shake but Macron would not let him have this.

A symbolic interpretation is that Trump wants to pull back on his relationship with Europe, but Europe is not going to allow this to happen. After all, Macron has joined Germany’s Angela Merkel as a defender of the European order.

In a speech in a beer tent in Munich on Sunday, Merkel was less obscure than Macron: "The times when we could fully count on others are over to a certain extent. I have experienced this in the last few days."

She was speaking after a G7 summit meeting at which Trump threw a tantrum over money owed by Nato members and took an unco-operative stance on climate change and migration.

Perhaps Merkel and Macron have drawn a line. They have heard Trump’s bombast and are not going to go along with it. The scene is set for a redefined relationship between the US and Europe for the first time since World War 2.

Or are we reading too much into a white-knuckled handshake?

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