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Macron finds his feet on the international stage

French President Emmanuel Macron. (AFP)
LONDON: He may have entered the Elysée with almost no diplomatic experience, but Emmanuel Macron has hit the floor running with his foreign policy.
Ahead of his meeting with Theresa May Thursday, the French president “played a blinder” as one UK newspaper put it, by offering to allow the Bayeux Tapestry to be displayed in Britain.
The 11th century work — which depicts the Norman Conquest of England — has not left France in 950 years. But the 40-year-old Macron appears to have little time for the constraints of tradition.
A day later, Britain had offered to pay £44.5 million ($62 million) to help France bring in new measures to tackle migrants trying to cross into the UK from the French port Calais.
Coincidence or another Macron masterstroke?
While Angela Merkel has been distracted by domestic political problems, Macron has positioned himself as the main European voice on the international stage. And he seems to be enjoying the limelight.
In the Middle East, Macron swept into the UAE in November for the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi. He visited Saudi Arabia amid tension over the future of Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
When he hosted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris last month, he was not afraid to condemn Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, calling it a “threat to peace.”
He angered Italy when he hosted a meeting in Paris between the two main Libyan powerbroker on either side of the country’s war. But the symbolism of a handshake between Khalifa Haftar and Fayez Al Sarraj, overshadowed grumblings that Macron’s meeting was distracting from UN and European efforts to resolve the conflict.
Perhaps Macron’s biggest diplomatic coup since he took office in May was hosting a major climate summit in December to reinvigorate international efforts against global warming after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord.
He has also been praised for his role in helping set up a new force among north African countries to tackle extremist militants in the Sahel.
But some have accused Macron of being the master of the diplomatic gesture but failing to back this up with substantial policy.
On his recent visit to China, Macron started proceedings by presenting a horse to his host, Xi Jinping, called Vesuvius.
Macron’s move to boost France’s standing on the international stage has played well domestically. A survey for French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche in December found 52 percent of those asked were satisfied with Macron, compared to 40 percent in August.