Blog AnalysisEU diplomacy

Between the USA and the European Union, a love story that goes wrong. European diplomacy facing a new front

(B2) Between Europeans and Americans, the divisions do not seem ready to disappear. On the contrary. The relationship is deteriorating on many diplomatic issues, to the point that talking about 'allies' becomes difficult

With GW Bush, relations were also hit. But not deteriorated over such a long time. Souvenir photo: Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, Guy Verhofstadt, Belgian Prime Minister holding the Presidency of the European Council, and GW Bush on September 27, 2001 (Credit: European Commission)

Donald Trump's United States had already sounded the bells of Europeans by leaving the Paris climate agreement two years ago (June 2017), denouncing the Iranian nuclear agreement a year ago (May 2018) and immediately announcing the move to Jerusalem of their embassy. Three issues to which the Europeans were nevertheless attached. And it doesn't look like it's over! For the past fortnight, we have been witnessing a veritable festival, indicative of the growing gap between American and European diplomatic positions.

A reverse change of alliance in Libya

In mid-April, the host of the White House announced without firing a shot his support for General Haftar who launched his offensive on Tripoli (1). A blow to European diplomacy (2). The announcement reverses its position of continued support for the government of Tripoli, led by Fayez El Sarraj, and the negotiation process led (painfully) by the UN.

NB: This last episode follows the rather confused announcement by Donald Trump, at the end of December 2018, of a (possible) American withdrawal from Syria, as from Afghanistan. Some European allies are then taken aback. No consultation was really carried out. Even if the decision will be, in part, postponed, it leaves a taste of bitterness: the Europeans 'count for butter' while the American ally seems unreliable.

Cuba, the return of extraterritorial sanctions

On April 17, Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State announces the reactivation of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. This means the recovery sanctions on Cuba, starting May 2. This is at odds with the European policy of restoring economic relations with Havana, with the added threat of retaliatory measures from European companies that trade with the island (read: Europeans protest the application of the Helms-Burton Act).

Do everything to undermine the Iran nuclear deal

On April 23, the American president decides to toughen the sanctions against Iran. It puts an end to the exemptions enjoyed by eight countries (including Greece, Italy and Turkey) in terms of importing Iranian oil. These sanctions, which entered into force on May 2, clearly go against the Europeans' desire to keep the Iranian nuclear agreement alive by restoring certain economic exchanges with Tehran.

The disarmament agreements passed to the karcher

On April 26, the American president announced before the NRA (National Rifle Association), the gun lobby, the US withdrawal from the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) (3). This is one more element in the American desire to free itself from any limit in rearmament, after the denunciation of the US-Russia treaty on intermediate-range weapons on European soil (read: The American withdrawal from the treaty worries. Europe does not want to become a battlefield again).

A full-scale attack on Europeans, accused of a lack of solidarity

On April 30, in one of these tweets of which he has the secret (4), the American president accuses the Europeans of lacking solidarity by refusing to take charge of the return of their nationals suspected of being part of the organization of the Islamic State (Daesh/Isis) arrested in Iraq or Syria. It is not the first time. But both virulence and reiteration exacerbate American hostility.

Kosovo and Venezuela, the convergence is cracking

In this list, one could also mention the more than ambiguous attitude of the Americans on the position of Kosovo, fueling underhand certain ideas such as the redefinition of the borders or the widening of the format of the negotiations... in the USA. Which is the best way to kill dialogue, a European diplomat told us.

Similarly, the intransigent, interventionist position of Washington towards the government in Caracas complicates the deal. If the Europeans also overwhelmingly support Juan Guaido against Maduro, they remain in favor of dialogue and above all refuse to instrumentalize humanitarian aid.

More sticking points to come

This list could grow very quickly, with the announcement of an American peace initiative in the Middle East which risks being closer to the current Israeli position (aiming at the annexation of part of the West Bank) than the two-state solution desired by the Europeans, with a viable Palestinian state.

NB: In this overview, we could also talk about the various disputes of an economic nature (Boeing/Airbus, tax on the import of vehicles) or disputes combining economic and security issues such as the criticisms of the granting of 5G licenses to Huawei by Europeans. But this is more the usual bickering between economic powers.

Positions no longer convergent but divergent

The diplomatic reality is that today, we can count on ten fingers the points where the European Union is not exposed to pressure (in the best of cases), to offensives or to hostility Americans on the main issues that interest him. The divergences are greater than the convergences (5). This is worrying because a good part of the European construction was built in consultation and in cooperation with the Americans.

A disarmed Europe facing an America in permanent confrontation

The Europeans have not really been used to practicing a policy that is completely autonomous and detached from the Americans. They are today rather divided on the attitude to have in what becomes a permanent 'confrontation'. They barely dare to reply to President Trump's infamous tweets. The Europeans have no, or very few, replica instruments. Updating the 'blocking law' (in the face of US sanctions) looks like a cheap trick. While appeals to the WTO reflect an overly procedural vision of diplomacy. Where the Americans (like the Russians) conceive of it as a showdown.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: Between Europeans and Americans, between Merkel and Pence, more than a nuance, an opposition

The Commission is 'zen'

Despite all these attacks based on objective elements, at the European Commission, we try to remain zen. " We defend an international system based on rules, international legality, with the UN at the center. We are involved in all international and transatlantic cooperation projects argued Margaritis Schinas when I asked him for B2 about the widening gap between the USA and Europe. " There's the statement and the rhetoric, but there's also the substance he added, wanting to be reassuring. " The European Union is committed, open, positive, working to get along, not to polarize or divide relations with our allies and international partners. Apart from that, the weather is nice, the birds are chirping and the grass is rustling in the fields.

  1. The American official press release is eloquent. " The President recognized the important role of Marshal Haftar in the fight against terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources. The two discussed a common vision for Libya's transition to a stable and democratic political system »
  2. Let's be honest, the European position was clouded by a Franco-Italian conflict, over support for the Tripoli government: Paris finding that the GNT was unable to come and stabilize the situation where Rome felt the same about Haftar.
  3. « Under my Administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone. We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your Second Amendment freedoms. And that is why my Administration will never ratify the UN Arms Trade Treaty. "  tweet April 26th
  4. « We have 1,800 ISIS Prisoners taken hostage in our final battles to destroy 100% of the Caliphate in Syria. Decisions are now being made as to what to do with these dangerous prisoners European countries are not helping at all, even though this was very much done for their benefit. They are refusing to take back prisoners from their specific countries. Not good! (Donald Trump)
  5. The only real point of convergence today between the US and the EU is in fact the attitude vis-à-vis Russia - where the nuances seem less great - and the presence in NATO which remains one of the only cements of multilateralism that connects the two parts of the Euro-Atlantic area.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “Between the USA and the European Union, a love story that goes wrong. European diplomacy facing a new front"

  • It is time for Europe to have its own foreign policy and also muscle its economic and military strength to enforce its interests...which ultimately often converge with the USA.
    Trum forces us to defend the West

Comments closed.