Saturday

22nd Sep 2018

Europeans in US 'not optimistic'

  • Trump's comments on the EU are "fitting to his personality. He is a loose cannon," a diplomat said. (Photo: Reuters)

European diplomats in Washington are concerned EU-US relations are growing more uncertain as the new White House administration appears to be moving away from free trade with Europe and closer to Russia.

"We're not optimistic", a senior German diplomat told EUobserver, who said it was "very difficult to gain access" to the Trump administration.

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And where it has been possible to gain access, officials "need to formulate everything very clear and exaggerate" because their US counterparts "only want to hear sensationalist [things]".

EU ambassador to the US David O’Sullivan didn't want to "react to any comments" recently made by Trump - like his view that Brexit was a "great thing" - until the new administration is installed.

He noted however that on an important issue such as free trade and the future of the EU-US TTIP deal, the EU was "somewhat of a way out of knowing exactly the direction of the policy of this administration".

"I think we haven't fully understood what will be the trade policy of the new administration; some of the key officials who will support the president on trade matters," he said. "The commerce secretary, the US trade representative, will have to take office and they will also have to appoint their staff."

TTIP talks are still officially ongoing, but the German diplomat said that the chance for any major trade deal between the two has "passed away", and TTIP is now "dead",

"It is clear that they would like bilateral deals" with member states rather than conclude TTIP, O’Sullivan noted.

The growing gap between the Trump administration and the EU is to be seen on Friday while British prime minister Theresa May pays the first visit of an EU leader to the new president. Although her visit will be to discuss how the UK can strike a trade deal with the US while leaving the EU.

Trump promised last week to "very quickly" do a bilateral trade deal with the UK.

O’Sullivan said that "the idea of a deal is interesting" but insisted that as long as the UK remains an EU member "'they’re not in a position to begin negotiations."

"I understand that what the president is saying is that all things being equal they would be open to such an idea, but we've some way to go before that would become an operational reality," he said.

The EU envoy, who is a former EU commission director general for trade, pointed out that the UK would have first to negotiate a new status in the World Trade Organization.

"I wouldn’t like to put a precise time-frame on it but it would be an additional complexity before any negotiation with the United States could be started," he said.

EU leaders have said that statements are not a policy and that Trump's comments may not all reflect future action.

'A loose cannon'

But the recent interview Trump gave to The Times and Bild newspapers, in which he said that Germany's refugee policy was a"catastrophic mistake" and that the EU has become a "vehicle for Germany" did nothing to "build trust" with Germany, the diplomat said.

He said that German chancellor Merkel was "disappointed" by Trump’s comments.

But "it's fitting to his personality. He is a loose cannon, deviating from agreements using Twitter," he added.

Trump's comment that he trusts Russian president Vladimir Putin as much as Angela Merkel was considered as "a horror" in Berlin, the official said, referring to the fact Germany and the US have been historically very closely aligned, while Russia has been regarded as one of America’s most potent adversaries

"I see problems with Putin", the diplomat said.

"Putin is trying to fragment the EU. It's different from Trump but now they’re cooperating. This is a problem."

Trump pledges US-first foreign policy

Economic protectionism and war on Islamist terrorism will form the heart of US foreign policy, Trump has said. He did not rubbish Nato, but indicated interest in a new Russia alliance.

US picks new fight with Merkel

The new US administration has once again antagonised Germany, this time by accusing it of currency manipulation.

EU wants continental free-trade deal with Africa

Earlier this week, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the union announced a new relationship with Africa. On Friday, his subordinates outlined the vision, promising jobs and growth by leveraging public funds for investments.

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