EU and Trump: Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst?

I know it is pretty hard to assess what might Donald Trump do in the White House but it seems that his rhetoric (and some people who are around him) suggests he is hardly the biggest fan of the EU. So what should EU do now, to hope for the best and prepare for the worst? And what could be the best and what the worst scenario? Read few comments.

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Josef Janning, Head of ECFR Berlin Office, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

European policy makers should stop staring at Trump and not seek to interpret every nuance in his statements like they currently do.

This is just talk, and much of it is loose talk. When Trump says something positive on the President of Mexico or the German Chancellor, it does not mean anything. On the other hand, Trump is no missionary ideologue, out there to destroy NATO or the EU. He does not care much about both institutions. In this view he is remarkably consistent so his latest interview does not contain any surprises other than that his views are not influenced by the nominees he presented for key positions in his cabinet. Which is good news regarding Flynn or Bannon, and not so good news regarding Tillerson.

The best European leaders can do is to wait and see, and not be influenced much by the rhetoric from Washington. If some loose talk of an incoming US President could derail the EU, then the EU wasn’t worth much.

With someone like Trump one needs self-confidence and strategic patience. Europe is strong if Europeans stop thinking weak.

Jost-Henrik Morgenstern-Pomorski, Lecturer, European Studies, Department of Politics, Maastricht University

It’s a reasonable expectation that the Trump administration is going to be critical to hostile towards the EU. This will have an impact across the board, from the environment, to trade and on to defense. In all instances, the best EU response would be to continue cooperation. Counterintuitively, the EU’s best response is domestic. It will require great composure by EU leaders to confidently, rationally and most important of all collectively, respond to conflicts that are bound to occur. It also means the EU’s domestic policies need to finally move in bolder steps to address the economic imbalances to bolster the union against potential economic disturbances. Similarly, the time to allow populist leaders in the EU to divide the EU from the inside is over. The EU needs to start to safeguard whatever internal democratic consistency is left. Without societies that can deal with divisive populism and an economy that can withstand external shocks, the EU will find it very hard to deal with the consequences of an ad hoc, America first US administration.

In security and defense, it is clear that EU member states will not move to paying the NATO guide rate soon, the gap is simply too large for most of them. The EU will need to make a renewed effort, wherever it can, to the highest level it can agree to. Having said that, the EU needs to also continue to convince the new administration of the mutual benefits of NATO. While it is unlikely that the feared US-Russian alliance can actually be maintained over the long term, the EU nevertheless needs to be prepared for it.

Tomas JaneliūnasProfessor, Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University

I my view, the worst scenario would be if D. Trump will demonstrate and act like NATO is obsolete, the TTIP is not needed for the US and Washington would rather have bilateral relations with European countries than with the EU. This position would make D. Trump similar to V. Putin. As we all know, Russia is preferring to deal with each EU member separately and to divide the cohesion of the EU. If the US will act like Russia does, it will bring even bigger pressure on the EU and may facilitate the bigger division inside the EU or maybe even a potential break-up – just by supporting ideas of nationalistic and populist movements in Europe.

European leaders should not be attracted by such a temptation to move on bilateral track with the US instead of the EU-US format. Only a common position would sustain the role of the EU in the trade or security issues at international level. Broken apart not even the biggest states like Germany or France have a chance to stay on equal stance vs the US or Russia.

The best scenario could be if D. Trump would step back from current position “America first” and understand that the partnership with the EU as the main partner in trade and security is of crucial importance for the US. Supporting the unity of the EU and stronger voice of the EU, maybe even bigger commitments for security in Europe and abroad would be in favour of European confidence and political role.

Simon Smith, Lecturer in International Relations, Staffordshire University

Some will call for more Union and some will take advantage of the disunity to pursue an agenda of further disintegration.

A lot will depend on, how Trump’s first 100 days are seen in the eyes of the US public with regard to actions and not just rhetoric, Trump’s attitude and demeanour once actually POTUS towards EU (and maybe just as or more important -NATO), the election in France and the evolving relationship between Trump and Putin with the ramifications that bring in terms of security on Europe’s eastern and southern flanks.

Michael Smith, Professor, Chair in International Relations, University of Aberdeen

I really don’t like to speculate. If the EU opposes Trump’s agenda, which seems to be the case, then its member states will have to work harder than ever to put aside their differences and speak with a single voice, especially regarding potentially divisive issues like immigration. And plan for the worst!

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