Wednesday

23rd Oct 2019

Opinion

How Europe should talk to Trump

  • The lesson for Europeans who wish to promote issues that are not prioritised by the Trump administration is to target US governors and mayors instead. (Photo: Consilium)

Nine months have now passed since President Trump's inauguration and Europe is still in search of shared visions with the new administration.

Trump's pursuit of national self-interest has upset those who believe in rules-based multilateral trade and cooperation based on shared values.

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As a result of Trump's isolationist stance on key issues, Europe has become determined to take charge of many areas and move forward on its own. Most European governments have gradually accepted the fact that climate change, democracy promotion, human rights and development are not priorities for the current US administration.

These developments do not only indicate a policy shift, but also the changing nature of the transatlantic relationship.

The net benefits from each interaction have become the key measure for bilateral relations, with trade often becoming a scapegoat.

Transactional Trump

The US now has a president that thinks in transactional terms, which has several implications from a European perspective. Currently, Europe is still spending a disproportionate amount of energy figuring out and criticising the new administration without bringing constructive proposals for how to revive the transatlantic relationship. Rather, anti-Trump sentiments have grown so strong in Europe that many fear it will turn its back on the US.

In reality, there are many ways for Europeans to make themselves heard in Washington. Cooperation or relations do not need to be redefined. In some areas Europeans should expect a halt, but there is room for strengthened ties in many fields. In order for this to happen, it is important to retool the language used when negotiating with the US.

A representative poll was conducted a month after the elections by ECFR and Dalia Research about the expectations of Trump's performance in office.

The poll showed that Trump was expected to do the wrong thing regarding social equality, human rights, climate change and helping the poor, and that people had the most confidence in him doing the right thing in the fight against ISIS and terrorism.

However, the most common answer was that respondents did not trust him to do the right thing on any of the presented policy areas.

The America First foreign policy strategy outlines that the administration aims to promote peace through strength, that the defeat of ISIS is its highest priority and that trade deals need to be renegotiated. As we have seen, Trump's foreign policy moves have so far been in line with his election promises and expectations.

The broad disapproval of Trump's policies in Europe has been channeled through the European media, where the coverage on Trump is almost exclusively negative.

A Harvard study showed that during Trump's first 100 days in office, 98 percent of German ARD's stories on Trump were negative. Surely pointing out obscene and inappropriate actions is necessary in order to prevent their normalisation, but making headlines out of everything Trump does is not.

Temper the criticism

Criticising and protesting against his actions and tweets is reasonable up to a point. Europe's scepticism has been proven right, and Trump is just as stubborn with his views as Europe is.

If Europe wants to be heard in Washington, the evident lack of consensus should not be augmented.

In a transatlantic manifesto published by the German Marshall Fund, foreign policy experts appeal to the German government to sustain a strong transatlantic relationship in the Trump era.

The manifesto suggests that there will be no consensus on issues related to trade and refugee policy, but that the focus should lie on defence and energy security. First and foremost, Trump and Mattis have praised European leaders for their military capacities, efforts in fighting ISIS as well as for meeting NATO's two percent spending requirement.

The fact that there is common ground to discuss defence, security and counterterrorism actually makes Europe's aspirations to work together to preserve the liberal world order possible.

Trump has acknowledged the challenges that terrorism, the rise of China and Russian information warfare pose. Europeans who come to Washington with perspectives on how to deal with China and Russia will always receive attention.

Dealing with terrorism, China and Russia can form the basis of a common transatlantic agenda, and topics that are more important for Europe could be mainstreamed into the debate and set the framework for methods.

Meet him on his ground

The US view on how to manage instability does not need to be narrow - it could use the broader perspective that Europeans can bring to the table.

In Europe security and stability are seen as more than mere military power.

For instance, the effects of unstable ecosystems and drought in the Middle East and Africa should not be underestimated.

Conflict prevention is linked with climate policies and upholding stable institutions, and European leaders needs to explain to Trump that the policy disagreements do not prevent the parties from aiming at the same goal.

Europe has a case to make why the US should consider a more proactive, holistic, and long-term approach to security, rather than a reactive approach.

Besides security, the EU and the US administration can find mutual understanding in their similar economic challenges such as changing labour markets and growth amenable to the middle class.

Copy Trudeau on Trump

Canada serves as a great example in this case. Trudeau's strategy has been to play up shared interests and similarities with the US, which has resulted in a constructive relationship.

The Canadian government was also quick to realise the difficulties of a climate sceptic official heading the US administration's Council on Environmental Quality. Thus, Canada began working on climate questions directly with American states even before Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The lesson for Europeans who wish to promote issues that are not prioritised by the Trump administration is to target US governors and mayors instead.

Finally, Europe should remember to highlight the interdependence between the US and Europe.

Developments within or in the proximity of the regions have consequences for both. The well-being of individuals increasingly know no borders, and the intensity of these ties needs to be understood. Awareness of trends on both sides of the Atlantic is essential.

Senni Salmi is a visiting fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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