Friday

18th Jan 2019

Mr Juncker goes to Washington

  • Juncker will visit Trump before the end of July, to try and defrost trade relations (Photo: European Commission)

The EU is sending European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to Washington, to discuss the disintegrating transatlantic trade relationship with US president Donald Trump.

"We will try everything to avoid a trade war," German chancellor Angela Merkel told press on Friday (29 June), after the EU summit in Brussels ended.

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  • The 28 EU leaders gave their full support to the commission's response to Trump's tariffs on European steel and aluminium (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The 28 EU leaders adopted a text in the early hours of Friday, in which they gave their full support to the commission's response to Trump's tariffs on European steel and aluminium, in place since 1 June.

"The EU must respond to all actions of a clear protectionist nature, including those calling into question the Common Agricultural Policy," they said in their conclusions.

However, while the EU leaders underlined "the importance of preserving and deepening the rules-based multilateral system", they also acknowledged that the functioning of the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to be improved.

At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Juncker said he would visit Washington at the invitation of Trump before the end of July, but no date had apparently been set yet.

"It will not take place before the 24th of July," he noted.

Juncker joke

Remarkably, Juncker said that he had told leaders during the summit an incorrect date of 21-22 July – to see if that date got leaked.

A commission press statement later said Juncker will meet Trump "before the end of July".

Juncker also noted that in the European Union the policy area of international trade has been completely transferred to the EU level – using the EU jargon "competence" for authority.

"I don't like this idea sometimes I'm suspecting the American administration to have to divide the European Union into different member states," said Juncker.

"When it comes trade, this is a competence of the European Union and thus of the European Commission."

The commission chief said he would show Trump that the EU was united, a sentiment that national government leaders also echoed.

Trump tales

French president Emmanuel Macron in his press conference refused to comment on a news report that claimed Trump had urged France to leave the EU, so that there could be a bilateral US-France trade deal.

"The European Union is absolutely united," Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar told journalists.

"Trade is a core competence of the European Union. Any attempts that they [the Americans] make to try to individualise this or seek bilateral deals with any EU country won't be entertained," said Varadkar.

However, Varadkar also noted that he had made the point to his colleagues that any retaliatory action from the EU side should be proportionate.

"We should try to avoid escalating this into a tit-for-tat trade war which wouldn't benefit anyone and would certainly be harmful to a trading nation like Ireland," he said.

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel indirectly criticised Trump's 'America first' policy.

"Every time in our history that a country has opted for protectionism, this has led to more poverty," said Michel.

Next Monday (2 July), Dutch prime minister Rutte will also visit the White House.

He will be the first EU leader to meet Trump since the US president claimed on Wednesday that the EU was "set up to take advantage of the United States".

"I am not going to say anything else about it than that I disagree with the [remark's] content. Given the history of the EU it is factually incorrect," Rutte told press at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

He noted that he was not given an EU message to relay to Trump, noting his visit is done in the context of bilateral relations between the US and the Netherlands.

However, he noted that the broader EU-US trade relation would obviously be mentioned when talking about the Dutch-US trade relation.

"If you look at the total amount of trade, then there is a reasonably-balanced picture," said Rutte, a point which Juncker also raised.

'We try'

While the amount of goods the EU exports to the US may be higher, the picture is reverse when looking at services, the commission president noted.

Juncker stressed that both the EU and the US need transatlantic trade, and said that the two sides should "de-dramatise" the tense relations.

"I am not sure that we will find an agreement between the US and the European Union, but we try," he concluded.

Earlier this month, Juncker said that at a G7 summit Trump had called him "a brutal killer".

"I think he meant it as a compliment, but I am not sure," Juncker had added.

Analysis

Did Juncker trick Trump?

The EU commission chief agreed to trade talks even if the US president did not lift tariffs on steel and aluminium. But he avoided tariffs on cars and obtained a commitment to refrain from new unilateral moves.

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