The cracks in the Trump-Europe relationship are turning into a gap

Earlier this week, the European Union refused to include the U.S. on its list of “safe countries,” meaning U.S. travelers will be unwelcome within the block in the foreseeable future, due to eyewitnesses to U.S. coronavirus infection numbers. In contrast, the list includes China – the country of origin of the virus – subject to mutual agreements.
EU officials insist the decision is not political and is based entirely on epidemiological evidence, hoping this will calm US President Donald Trump, the man who has repeatedly attacked the bloc.

However, others who privately admitted that Brussels wanted to make the pill more enjoyable for American audiences could have added a sugar coating to it. “In the past, I see that we may not have included China to make the United States happy,” said an EU diplomat who was not authorized to record how the decision was made.

It may seem difficult to take this incident as evidence of a breakdown in transatlantic relations, until you place it in the current geopolitical context. It’s no secret Washington is less interested in European affairs these days. And it is well known that European nations are actively seeking greater diplomatic autonomy than America. This applies in particular to the 27 Member States of the European Union.

One way Brussels thinks it can distance itself from DC is by engaging with China as a strategic and economic partner, reducing its reliance on one of the world’s superpowers by balancing its relationship with the other.

In recent years, Brussels has held on to weapons in big, international matters while Trump has torn everything down. Consider the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, 5G, and you begin to see a pattern of behavior in which the EU could be considered to have moved to China in relation to its oldest ally. Sure, one could say that the situation is barren, given the deep, established connection between Europe and the US, but in this context, any perception of kindness to Beijing inflicts a very real bruise.

“Knowing what we know about Chinese data, how it behaved during the pandemic and the attitude of the White House, I think we could keep it away in another world,” the diplomat says. The other world he is thinking of is not simply the world before Trump took power.

One Brussels official working on EU foreign policy but not authorized to speak on the footage said retreating from Europe as a geopolitical priority began under former US President Barack Obama.

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“Obama did not have as much interest in the Middle East as previous presidents, which is a geographically more European problem. He has changed his priorities from Europe to China and Asia,” the official said.

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However, longtime observers of the alliance accept that it has been tense for the past four years – and will get worse if Donald Trump defeats former Vice President Joe Biden in this year’s U.S. election. “Trump sees the EU, especially Germany, as an economic and trade rival, which means tensions can be expected if he wins a second term,” said Velina Chkakarova of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy.

She says that while the EU is taking steps to “build stronger autonomy in the field of security and defense”, Trump is trying to “undermine such efforts with his attacks on European NATO members as well as economic and trade measures”.

A Brussels official explains that Trump’s “move away from multilateralism” in major international matters like Iran, combined with America’s taking on “less responsibility in European security,” has accelerated European thinking to take a step away from America and “do its thing in the world phase.”

An EU diplomat recognizes this characteristic of a hostile U.S. administration that avoids working with Europeans to avoid working with Europeans. “The problem is that DC officials who want to work with Europe, while in contact, don’t have a government mandate to deal in any serious way. They’ve stood as long as they can, but if we get a second Trump’s appointment, then we’re in real trouble. “

President Trump has repeatedly criticized the bloc.

This, according to Tchakarov, is why “EU institutions and member state leaders hope that Joe Biden will be elected in November … he advocates multilateralism and is expected to strengthen ties between the US and Europe”.

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CNN has approached a number of officials from EU institutions and diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic for comment. Most declined to comment; several admitted to believing it to be so. One European diplomat said: “We will dance with whoever is on the dance floor, but it does not take a genius to see that cooperation between the EU and the US is currently weaker.”

Asked to comment on the EU’s potential shift in historical ties with the US, a State Department spokesman said: “The United States and the EU share a strong and lasting partnership based on shared democratic values ​​and governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, deep economic ties. and a commitment to transatlantic prosperity and security. This long-standing partnership is vital for coordination in a range of international efforts. “

However, Biden’s potential victory would not provide quick fixes for the transatlantic partnership. “The question is not really whether you can get the relationship back to where it was, but whether we can convince the US to rejoin the Western order,” the EU diplomat said.

“The geopolitical movements of the US and the EU in Asia, the Middle East and trade have already begun. The difference at the moment is that we think the West should move as one.”

And even if Biden returned to Obama-era politics in Europe, there is no guarantee that in four years he will not be replaced by someone even more radical than Trump. “The fundamental shifts that are happening in the US are likely to remain and we need to adjust, which is the best in the relationship we can. These changes are structural and not based on just one person,” the Brussels official said.

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Of course, none of this means that the transatlantic alliance will cease to be important. It will remain central to what the West represents, and the US will always be a more important ally to Europe than China could ever be. In addition, the EU’s big plans to engage more with China dealt a big blow with the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, this pale veneer of heat – with Europe seeking a new place on the world stage as the US global role becomes inherently unpredictable – can only be considered good news for those against whom these historic Western powers were united not so long ago.

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