24 July 2018

Trump’s visit in Europe, between certitudes and contradictions

Sergiu Medar

The Europe visit of U.S. president, Donald Trump, may be considered as a developing substance for the U.S. - E.U. relations, which are really insecure now, during Trump’s administration. His attitude during the visit, the way he managed his participation at the NATO Summit, the visit in Great Britain and especially the summit with the Russian president, decreased the American leader’s credibility for some of his nation and the Europeans. His meeting with Vladimir Putin was more of a concession than an initiative take over.

Image source: Mediafax

During his electoral campaign, Donald Trump made a series of affirmations that really gave the world’s analysts a lot to think about, especially to those with an expertise in the U.S. – E.U. relations. It did not passed more than three years since the well-known analysts, George Friedman, the actual Chairman of Geopolitical Futures online paper, quoting what Henry Kissinger was saying years before, was questioning if the U.S. president would like to talk to Europe, who will he call? Around the same period, in a Pentagon study, offered to the public, it was said that Europe is a regional power. Ignoring these arrogances, the U.S. - E.U. relation remained at an un-balanced pragmatic cooperation level, with an obvious plus for the U.S. on the security and defence area, and one for the E.U. regarding the economic aspects, precisely the European exports to the U.S. 

The new US president proposed to reintroduce the principle “America First” and based on this, to reform the US international relations, practically, to modify the actual world’s economic and political order. We observed the strength he had in approaching this program from the first month of the new administration, when Donald Trump withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Treaty due to world’s climatic changes, mentioning that this hinders the autochthonous industry.

Trump approached the U.S. administration on simple economic principles, in-put type, and the international relations on transactional principles, with obvious perfectionist manifestation.

From an oversimplified economic analyses, he observed that the U.S got to a point when the American dollars were going to Germany, for example, for the U.S achievements of car products made in Europe, and another part of the dollars were assuring 80% from the NATO budget for defending Europe. Trump noticed this during his electoral campaign and promised to change this international economic policy aspect.

As a consequence, they augmented the import taxes, steel and aluminum, and with these, the taxes on the automotive category of products from E.U., with severe effects for the Europeans. As a response, the E.U. member’s states augmented the U.S import taxes on whiskey, motorcycles and other products, still without any major impacts on the general economic transactions from the Atlantic’s two coasts. The position Donald Trump had at the G-7 meeting in Canada was exactly on this direction.

And regarding the defence and security area, the U.S. president had the same principle “America First”. For this, Trump involved the U.S. only in the geopolitical areas that could threaten the U.S. or its close allies.

This is how we get to explain the U.S. withdrawal from the Nuclear Treaty with Iran and its threat, showing his fully commitment in defending its closest ally, Israel. Considering that the other signatory states did not withdraw, even if there was some pressure on these, the U.S. felt again isolated in their foreign policy regarding Iran. It seemed that in the last weeks Trump changed his mind and he made us think that, pleased by Iran accomplishing its commitments, he could join again the other 5 treaty signatories. Yet, in the last few days, he came back to this bellicose attitude, threatening Iran, just after the Iranian president Rouhani’s alike aggressive statement, saying that a war in this part of the world would be devastating.

These were the conditions when the European tour began, with Trump’s participation at the NATO summit, the visit in Great Britain and the meeting with Vladimir Putin, after the unsuccessful meetings with the French president, Germany’s chancellor and a hot G7 Group meeting (where Trump’s left a day earlier). Starting under these bad auspices, the tour ended as badly as it started for the Europeans, instead of allowing a constructive dialogue.

Regarding the NATO summit, although the majority of the decision taken by the member’s states leaders were as they planned and agreed, being presented at the final pledge, the collateral discussions evidenced the frictions between the states from the Atlantic’s two coasts.  Trump asked, according to the final pledge signed by all the participants, funds of 2% GDP from each NATO state, for the national military budget, in order to assure the functioning conditions of an alliance capable and credible to discourage any threat against the members’ states. Six states already had this amount, meanwhile the other states committed that in a period of time, hard-and-fast planned, to reach this percentage. Probably Trump realized that with only 2% he will not recover the debts that NATO has to give the U.S from the last years, so as a firm and experienced negotiator that he is, he asked, after signing the final pledge, 4% from each state’s GDP. The American president’s attitude molested the assistance and the new demand remained to be discussed in the future.

Trump’s abrasive language and the totally lack of diplomacy against the E.U., members or not of NATO, makes us think that the American leader wants a Europe without the U.S’s involvement, at the same level as it was until now, in the European security. But in Washington the things are not as good on the same coasts of the Potomac. James Mattis, the U.S. secretary of defence, continues the coercive diplomacy policy and the military commitment in discouraging Russia, seen by the American militaries as the main threat against the U.S.’s security and interests in the world.

During his visit in Europe, the U.S. president made some statements that will hardly find their place in world’s history diplomacy, in the dialogues between the allies. Trump accused Mrs. Merkel that Germany is Russia’s “captive”. Also, he named the E.U. a U.S “enemy” regarding the economy.

During his visit in Great Britain, the U.S. leader suggested the prime-minister Theresa May to sue the E.U. for the conditions regarding Brexit.

The West European states were initially socked by Trump’s position, although these were warned by the declarations made before the tour. The Trump- Putin meeting was the limit. We cannot say that his meeting reoriented the U.S. - Russia or Europa- Russia relations, but as I think, it was firstly a meeting of intern consume for the U.S. Trump needed the highest affirmation that Russia was not involved in his electoral campaign. Accusing the 12 GRU officers in the day before the tour in Europe, was a “hit” at Trump’s legitimacy as a president. Putin’s firm position that Russia was not involved in the U.S. president election, as well as the expressed availability for creating mixed commissions to investigate the accused Russian officers are only proving Russia’s re-involving in the U.S.’s intern policy. Therefore, at odds were the U.S’s president own affirmations and sanctions of the informational services, and Putin’s statements. A common investigation committee, American-Russian, would undermine even more the credibility of his own informational system, especially when Trump’s interest is to prove that Russia was not involved in the electoral process.

After ending president’s Trump European tour, when the fresh impressions were first formed, the west Europeans became pessimists regarding the transatlantic relation evolution. Therefore, the European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, was talking about “increasing the concerns regarding the international relations”, and Manfred Weber, the German president of the Popular European Party, the biggest of this legislature of the E.U. Parliament, affirmed  that “the Helsinki summit is first of all a warning signal for the entire Europe”. Manfred Weber, a representative of the German party with a large history in supporting and developing the transatlantic relations, mentioned that “we, the Europeans, must take our fate in our own hands”.

Donald Trump’s European tour accentuated the approaching differences between the U.S. and the E.U. These got augmented, instead of being discussed and calmed.

With this situation, after a week of discussions, bluntly and without any common law diplomacy that should exist at such a level, the European Union had to reorient its economic policies to more available and profitable areas.  Thereby, can be explained the tour in China and Japan of an E.U. delegation led by Donald Tusk, just the second day after the Trump-Putin meeting. As a consequence, at only one week after ending the European tour of the U.S president, the E.U. concluded with Japan the biggest commercial treaty ever signed. This treaty is identical with the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), that they wanted to sign two years ago with the U.S.

Still, in a press conference in Tokyo, Donald Tusk was saying, in 18th of July, in the presence of the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, that: “this is an extremely important strategic treaty for the international order based on rules, in a period when some are questioning this order”, continuing with the appreciation that “We (the EU and Japan) are sending a message that, together, we are against the protectionism.

Yes, we cannot say that we are witnessing a transatlantic relations breach. The history of these relations is so old and had so much success that is hard to break, due to protectionism or isolationism motives. It is possible that the U.S. – E.U. relation to be moved on another riverbed, but the two parts need each other, economical as well as politically. It is possible that we are witnessing another world economic order, but the transatlantic relation cannot breach. Several analysts affirm that Europe remained united with NATO’s help, and by having the same common threat, Russia. Now, this threat, maybe too soon forgotten, is again here.  Not with the same intensity, but still able to hurt a lot. The information that the Pentagon has makes the military programs in Poland, the Baltic countries and Romania to continue with the same intensity. This is the proof that we are not talking about a US disengagement from Europe, but of a redistribution of NATO’s tasks. They may revitalize the idea of creating a European army. This is not bad as long as it will lead to increasing the military spending and finding concrete action solutions with NATO.

A chance to get together again the US and EU and to clarify at least two bilateral relation aspects, could be the White House visa of the European Committee president, Jean Claude Juncker, on 25th of July. There is no chance that in such a short time to change something in the fundamental aspects, especially that Juncker is known as being on Russia’s side and on reducing the US involvement in Europe. It might be that especially these ideas could re-build, on other principles, the EU-US relations.

It is essential that neither Europe nor U.S can be isolated. The “America First” principle cannot be transformed in “America Alone”, and neither “Europe First” (invoked by Mrs. Angela Merkel at the Munich Conference in 2017) cannot be transformed in “Europe Alone”. The two Atlantic’s coasts will be, not after long, as closed as before.