Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

De Croo: 'If 2024 brings 'America First' again, Europe on its own'

  • Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo also pledged to uphold the rule of law during his country’s EU presidency (Photo: European Parliament)
Listen to article

Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo has starkly warned that if Donald Trump wins in 2024, Europe will be on its own.

In his address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday (16 January) to mark Belgium's incoming EU presidency, De Croo said the June EU elections will serve as a significant challenge for European democracy, just like the US Congress and presidential elections.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"A lot is at stake for Europe. A lot is at stake for the West," he said. "If 2024 brings us, 'America First', again, it will be more than ever, Europe on its own."

Last week, EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton also revealed how Europe was already warned in 2020 of such a potential scenario.

Speaking at an event in the EU parliament, Breton said that then US president Donald Trump told EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in 2020 that the US would "never come help" if Europe was attacked, and that Nato was "dead".

Trump's words were back then "a big wake-up call" for Europe and "he may come back," Breton said.

The French commissioner wants to ramp up the production of defence equipment within Europe through a new European defence investment programme, expected on 27 February.

Meanwhile, presenting the priorities to the Belgian presidency, De Croo talked about reviving the spirit of Jacques Delors, promoting market openness, and investing in energy, artificial intelligence, defence, and capital markets to make Europe "stronger, more sovereign, more self-reliant".

He also said Europe has "a duty" to support Ukraine against Russia's aggression and to find a long-lasting solution for the Israel-Hamas war.

"For America and other allies, the support for Ukraine is a strategic question. It is a geopolitical consideration. For us, Europeans, the support to Ukraine is existential, it goes to the heart of our security and our prosperity," he warned.

His remarks come after EU leaders failed to provide a €50bn aid package to Ukraine in December, due to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán's veto — and amid intense negotiations to ensure that Orbán does not block an agreement at the upcoming special European Council in February.

The Belgian prime minister said it is imperative for the EU to promptly deliver this assistance and military support.

Orbán's veto, widely seen as blackmail, triggered widespread criticism against member states for not taking forward the procedure of Article 7 against Hungary — which could see Hungary's voting rights suspended.

Nevertheless, De Croo also praised upholding the rule of law during his country's EU presidency. "We will continue to apply the procedure of Article 7," he said.

The war in the Middle East has driven a wedge between Western allies who unconditionally back Israel, such as the US and Germany, and those critical of Israel's military operation in Gaza, led by Spain, plus Belgium and Ireland. 

But Belgium has been gaining a stronger voice in this conflict.

"We need to make sure that the innocent citizens of Israel and Palestine and Palestine need to be protected," De Croo said, pointing out that humanitarian corridors need to be established and international law must be respected.

In a surprise move, Belgian deputy prime minister, Petra De Sutter, recently asked the Belgian government to take Israel to the International Court of Justice, like South Africa.

In this context, possible avenues for Belgium include an oral or written intervention in the South African case, EUobserver was told.

Green Deal pause?

In his speech, De Croo also said that one of the biggest challenges for Europe is making its economy strong.

"Europe cannot become an economic museum," he said, arguing that the 27-nation bloc is rallying behind the US and China. "The problem is, Europe is strong on innovation. But weak in scaling up those innovations," he said.

"We need an industrial deal alongside the Green Deal. It is not only vital for our prosperity but also crucial to win the fight against climate change," he said while warning about "leaving too little room" for EU companies to innovate.

Climate policies in China and the US, De Croo said, are full of positive incentives or rewards to their industries, while Europe tends to use a more punitive approach.

Europe should not only focus on "merely fixing the climate goals" but also "nailing down the way in which these goals need to be achieved," the premier said.

His words echoed previous calls for a 'regulatory pause' he delivered in mid-2023 — triggering criticism from green MEPs.

"Europe is struggling against the US and China in competition in the green transition [but] this is not the time to pause," responded Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts.

"When you run your legs can hurt a little bit, but I think that our societies are ready to continue in this marathon," he added.

Alongside an expected report on competitiveness from former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, the Belgian presidency has also asked former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta to come up with a report on the European single market.

Meanwhile, Belgium will also put forward a roadmap for the reforms the EU needs to undertake to enlarge to a group of more than 30 states.

"It is good not to be alone. Are we happy to be a class of 27 that defend one another in a world that is more turbulent than ever?", he asked.

Feature

Ten dilemmas for the EU in 2024

The upcoming European Parliament elections will be a make-or-break moment this year, when decisions (or the lack thereof) will significantly shape the trajectory of the EU. These are the 10 key questions that the EU is facing this year.

Opinion

Hungary vs Ukraine: how do you deal with Orbán?

Viktor Orban insists EU membership is merit-based — which indeed it should be — but his own government has bluntly flouted the norms and values upon which the EU is founded, writes the central Europe director of Human Rights Watch.

Opinion

How will the Ukraine/Russia war pan out in 2024?

Many Russians are confident in their army, believe it will win the war, approve of their government, and Vladimir Putin has high approval ratings for the presidential election in March. So where does that leave Ukraine?

Investigation

Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line

In a fractious parliamentary vote, the level of party discipline often decides the fate of legislation. Party discipline among nationalists and far-right MEPs is the weakest, something potentially significant after the June elections. Data by Novaya Gazeta Europe and EUobserver.

Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR

Launching her campaign for a second EU Commission president mandate, Ursula von der Leyen rejected collaboration with extremist parties but left the door open to working with rightwing ECR — which may go from fifth to third-largest party in June.

'Nightmare' 2024 sees Orbán struggle ahead of EU elections

Viktor Orbán admits that 2024 "could not have started any worse" for his government. The sex-abuse scandal that led to the resignation of the president provides an opportunity for Hungary's opposition — but their fragmentation could be a major obstacle.

Frontex to far-right, Leggeri epitomises EU contradictions

Fabrice Leggeri, the ex-Frontex boss who has now joined the French far-right National Rally, is a product of the internal contradictions at the EU: the competing interests among EU states and a European Commission too weak to manage their demands.

Latest News

  1. All of Orbán's MPs back Sweden's Nato entry
  2. India makes first objection to EU carbon levy at WTO summit
  3. Angry farmers block Brussels again, urge fix to 'unfair' prices
  4. Luxembourg denies blind spot on Nato security vetting
  5. Record rate-profits sees EU banks give shareholders €120bn
  6. Why the EU silence on why Orban's €10bn was unblocked?
  7. Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line
  8. More farmers, Ukraine aid, Yulia Navalnaya in focus This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us