Mike Pompeo gets blown off in Brussels. The Europeans resist US lobbying. But for how long ?

(B2) The obvious pressure that Americans have put on Europeans in recent days has failed on two key issues: the Iran nuclear deal and the European defense. The Europeans refused to bend. Mike Pompeo left empty handed. US diplomacy defeated by the Europeans. Rare enough to be noticed

Behind the awkward smile, the humilitation… (credit : EU Council)

For how long will the Europeans stay united like this ? Everyone knows that the American war machine is relentless, multiplying alliances back and forth, spreading the seed of division on the European continent, mounting the Member States against each other. Surprisingly, despite the Brexit mess, the divergences and the intense political divisions between the Europeans, the Europeans play more or less grouped. A new phenomenon that should be followed carefully. The battle is not over.

First issue : Iran

Let’s be clear. It is a diplomatic humiliation that was inflicted to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Travelling unexpectedly to Brussels to meet with his European counterparts, he hoped to leave with a group picture of the E3 (France, Germany, the UK) welcoming him. So he could testify of a common position between Europeans and Americans on the sensitive issue of Iranian nuclear. He could have spared himself the trouble.

Mike Pompeo was forced to meet each minister separately. Without even a picture to reward his efforts. He had to come back, after a detour by NATO, to salute the EU High Representative and obtain – with a picture, at last – a handshake from the chief of the European diplomacy. Who was being polite more than anything.

NB : Although both sides share some commonalities of views on the dangers that constitute Iran, they completely disagree on the means to their ends. The United States have withdrawn from the international agreement to increase the pressure. But the Europeans consider that the Iranians have so far respected the ‘deal’ and that a continued dialogue is the way to go to bring them back at the negotiating table.

Second issue : the European defence

Following up on the pressures the Americans put on the MEPs, the commissioners and the member States alike, two Under-Secretaries (Defence and Foreign Affairs) have sent a terse letter of complaint to the High Representative Federica Mogherini, also involving in the exchange the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani and the vice-president of the Commission Jyrki Katainen.

The letter is in the form of an ultimatum. The subject of the American wrath : mostly, the European Defence Fund (FEDef) which is accused of favoring the European industrial base. The Americans want – or more like it, demand – that their companies be treated equally to their European counterparts and, as such, receive European funding. Also criticised, the European Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the Americans deeming that the conditions for 3rd countries’ participation are too strict.

The Europeans have until the 10th of June to respond and modify the European legislation, under penalty of seriously tarnishing the NATO-EU pact… One trembles already. The pressure focuses on companies : any company receiving European funding would expose itself to a ban from the US markets if it fully complied with the provisions (particularly the ones on intellectual property). Hence a very concrete threat of retaliation measures.

But here again, the Europeans seem unwilling to let themselves be bullied and are preparing to respond in a very polite, but firm manner to the US.

Commentary : a very annoying American ambiguity

The US entertain an ambiguious position of the question of European defence. Washington, led by The Donald, rant and rave, complaining to be carrying the burden of the continent’s defence on its shoulders, mocking the lack of material and financial investments. Yet when the Europeans decide to take the matter into their own hands, Americans denounce a betrayal, an attack on free markets and Transatlantic accords.

The Americans seem slightly hypocritical to be giving lectures on this topic The European defence market could not be more open while the Americans have barricaded theirs with an arsenal of protections of all kind : markets reserved to US firms, ITAR regulatory regime on military technologies’ exports, etc. Moreover, these initiatives are not threatening in the least to the EU-NATO cooperation, no do they duplicate it. On the contrary, they will feed into this cooperation with new capacities and complementary fundings…

Washington is thus claiming a full decision-making power on equal terms with the members of the Union, without paying out a cent. But there is a small problem : the US, fonding members and crucial actors of NATO, are not members of the European Union. Not will they ever be. They are currently realising that their companion, and forever ally, is trying to emancipate itself and stand on its own two feet. Which they do not accept. The Americans have a problem : « they cannot conceive that we could have a European pillar by ourselves » has told us, and rightly so, a diplomat.

De facto, we might wonder if, behind this demonstrated interest in European defence initiatuves, « there is no other interest at stake, industrial or commercial », more important than political considerations. The Americans are actually afraid of seeing a captive market escape them… Like during the creation of Airbus which allowed the development of a global giant, able to give Boeing a run for its money.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).