Friday

22nd Nov 2019

Sofia summit: EU leaders search for a Trump strategy

  • European leaders meeting in Sofia are set to continue fighting for rules-based international system despite recent US decisions on climate change, tariffs and Iran (Photo: eu2018bg/Flickr)

"The world is in disorder," European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker declared on Wednesday (16 May).

And for the Europeans, the problem is made more acute by the fact that the disorder is largely created by their closest historical ally, the United States.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Tusk on Trump: 'With friends like that, who needs enemies?' (Photo: Consilium)

On Wednesday evening in Sofia, EU leaders spent several hours over dinner discussing how to protect the EU's interests, after two recent decisions by US president Donald Trump : scrapping a nuclear deal with Iran and potentially sanction European companies doing business there and threatening to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium from 1 June.

"With friends like that, who needs enemies?" European Council president Donald Tusk said before the meeting, setting the mood among EU leaders.

Tusk hit out at "the capricious assertiveness of the American administration" under Trump.

But thanks to Trump, he said, "we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm."

"Europe must do everything in its power to protect, in spite of today's mood, the transatlantic bond. But at the same time we must be prepared for those scenarios, where we will have to act on our own," he added.

According to an EU source, leaders agreed to "continue fighting for rules-based international system despite recent decisions on climate change, tariffs and Iran".

The EU will continue to support the Iran deal "as long as Iran respects the deal" but will address US concerns over Iran's role in the Middle East crisis and its ballistic missile programme.

In order to protect EU companies from US extraterritorial sanctions, they agreed to modernise the so-called blocking statute, a 1996 regulation that prevents companies to recognise certain non-EU jurisdictions decisions.

EU leaders also laid out the main lines of their strategy in the trade dispute with the US.

According to the source, they reaffirmed that they will "not negotiate with a gun at its head," but they said they are ready to talk with the US once its decides on a permanent tariffs exemption for the EU.

The EU would be ready to "improve reciprocal market access, for industrial products, including amongst others cars, and liberalisation of public procurement," the source said.

The European leaders said they would be ready to also work with the US to reform the World Trade Organization (WTO) - a nod to address concerns over Chinese trade practices and over a more technical issue with the WTO's Appellate Body.


They also opened the door for discussions on energy relationship with the US, in particular about liquefied natural gas (LNG), which the US is keen on selling in Europe.

The discussions, which officials said were long but with "no real controversy", stuck to the issues of the day and avoided a wider questioning of the EU's relations under Trump, despite Tusk's tough words.

"The way to address will give answer to the broader question on how Europe should deal with the Trump administration," a senior EU official had noted before the meeting.

"Most of the leaders think the same [as Tusk], but they cannot say it," an EU official told EUobserver, noting that the bloc wanted to avoid a direct confrontation with its main allies.

'There is no strategy''

Last week, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that "it is no longer the case that the United States will simply just protect us".

She insisted that "Europe needs to take its fate into its own hands. That's the task for the future."

But "there is no strategy" to do it, a senior diplomat noted.

"There is no possibility to have a vision of the EU-US relationship as long as Trump is here," he told this website.

He said that the EU only wanted to "maintain a status quo, and some links with the US, until a new president arrives, hoping it is someone else [after the 2020 election]".

As Europeans have lost the guarantee that Trump would activate article 5 - the Nato clause for mutual defence - they are focusing more on EU's own security policies, the two officials noted.

After Wednesday's dinner, some considered that the openings made by the leaders on trade risked to be seen as a weakness that would "show that Trump's irrationality pays off", the diplomat noted.

In addition to Russia's destabilising policies or China's military and commercial rise, Trump's US has raised another question for the EU.

"Should we be the only one that continue to follow the rules?" asked the official.

Analysis

EU has no 'magic bullet' against US Iran sanctions

EU leaders in Sofia will discuss how they can protect the bloc's economic interests against US threats to sanction companies doing business in Iran. But their options are limited.

EU piles last-minute pressure on US over Iran nuclear deal

US president Donald Trump is set to announce his decision on the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday. The EU says it wants the deal to remain. "We believe the agreement is delivering," said a European commission spokesperson.

Agenda

Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK

The Facebook CEO will brief MEPs on data protection - but only behind closed doors. Meanwhile EU leaders are scratching their heads on how to deal with US president Trump's erratic decisions on trade and the Iran deal.

Opinion

Is Trump the EU's only problem?

With Russia and China posing (different) threats to the EU from its east, and migration pressures from Africa to the south, the EU needs to find ways - and quickly - to reinvigorate the Brussels-Washington axis.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament votes on new commission next week
  2. Berlusconi wants Europe to be a military global power
  3. Orban ordered to apologise over 'misleading' Soros survey
  4. EPP to decide on expelling Fidesz by end of January
  5. Rowdy anti-corruption protest in Malta
  6. Ambassador: Trump ordered Ukraine election meddling
  7. EU links Libyan government to human trafficking
  8. Greek PM on migration: 'Greece has reached its limits'

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EPP congress pledges 'moderate' climate solution
  2. EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans
  3. New EU financial instruments needed
  4. Binding measures to expand gender balance
  5. Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong
  6. EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration
  7. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  8. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us