FEPS Fresh Thinking

Yesterday the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas delivered a ground breaking speech in Berlin on how Europe should hold up its values and policies in a world radicalised by nationalism, populism and chauvinism, expressed by the US president and its behaviours. We have to concede that the world of multilateralism, constructed since World War II and the fall of the iron curtain, is strongly in danger. Old alliances and in particular the transatlantic partnership are now questionable.


Looking only at last week’s G7 summit in Canada, one thing is clear: the transatlantic relationship is no longer in the usual default modus operandi. But President Trump’s erratic behaviour, best exemplified by his withdrawal of his assent to a G7 joint communiqué via twitter, should not surprise anyone.



Being more unshackled than at any point in his presidency, he has shown once more his true colours: a shameless disrespect towards multilateralism, an ahistorical understanding of the underbelly of his country’s great power differential -its alliances-, and of course the typical mix of ignorance and arrogance.


This was again another step inwards as he already withdraw the United States from TPP, the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear pact, and to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminium on his country’s closest allies on a reasoning of national security grounds.


What is more, Trump’s fury, erractic behaviours, and appetite for the absurd cannot be seen as a temporary aberration in the relationship between the two sides of the Atlantic. As Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s First Vice-President, remarked ‘It is the first time since 1945 that an American President has not seen it as an American strategic interest to work hard to ensure a vibrant and unified Europe and a robust transatlantic relationship.’


Even if a future US administration repairs the damage, the reputational but also substantive cost that Trump’s actions and words are exacting now will have long-term, irreversible consequences in the future. This is not to support an alarmist interpretation of history. The relationship between the United States and Europe is much more profound and runs much deeper than one person. It is, nonetheless, an eternal political reality that it takes much longer to (re)build something than to knock it down, and this is not an exception.


Europe needs to be united and strong ,not only in analysis but clearly in pooling together to combine its forces of more than 500 million people in times of globalisation, digitalisation, climate chance, migration and all the social issues connected to these challenges.


Europe has to foster its ‘strategic autonomy’ and this needs to become a much more determined endeavour.


We have seen that appeasement does not work with Trump, as his transactional mind-set only perceives this as the basis for higher and more unreasonable demands. This has been demonstrated time and time again: during the last minute diplomatic massage on behalf of President Macron and Chancellor Merkel before the May 12th deadline for the Iran nuclear deal, during the negotiations between Washington and Brussels over tariffs, and so on.


Instead, the European Union must stay the course in upholding many of the institutions, settings, practices, rules and norms that Trump seems to be so scornful of, that is, multilateralism, collective solutions, and the force of law, not the law of force.


Pushing back against the worst impulses of the current US president does not mean dislocating our commitment to transatlanticism. It rather means preserving its very foundational elements and not allowing them to wither to the point of non-existence.


Now is the time for decisive action and a united Europe is even more needed than in the last decades. It is the duty of Europe to make the people feel, that globalisation and the erosion of structures are not a natural phenomena but requires bravery and decisiveness. Only when this is ensured will Europe be capable to face Trump.


(This blog has been written with the support of Vassilis Ntousas, International Policy Adviser of FEPS)


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