Tuesday

18th Dec 2018

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days 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. 3,500 UK troops on standby for no-deal Brexit
  2. Brexit: Opposition disagrees over no confidence vote
  3. EU court confirms suspension of Polish judges law
  4. France to tax Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon
  5. EU negotiators agree CO2 targets for cars
  6. May: Brexit vote will be week of 14 January
  7. Rome finds extra budget funds to fit EU demands
  8. Polish climate talks end in agreement on rulebook

Opinion

The Azov crisis will backfire

Vladimir Putin's nightmare of Petro Poroshenko's re-election will be even certain as Ukrainians rally around the flag. Next March's election is not just to elect a new president but also a commander-in-chief to deal with five more years of Putin.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Muscat's one-man rule poses challenge for EU
  2. Orban protests target state media in new front
  3. Brexit and the Queen Sacrifice
  4. EU gives Switzerland another six months for a deal
  5. Fiscal discipline rules in eurozone are devastating
  6. EU capitals see weekend of tear gas and water cannon
  7. Bulgarian 'EU passports' whistleblower wants justice
  8. No more Brexit talks, despite May's pleas

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us