Tuesday

21st Aug 2018

Opinion

Is Trump the EU's only problem?

The United States' decision to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem was met with resentment across European capitals. The American decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran was met with outrage in European capitals.

Has Trump gone completely mad, or is there method to this madness?

Read and decide

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The problem of Iran's power expansionism in the Middle Eastern region is nothing new. What is new is the degree of that expansionism, made possible by the weakening of Iraq and a 'favourable' constellation in Syria.

These circumstances enabled Iran to move dangerously close to the country that, by its very existence, apparently poses a major challenge for Iran: to Israel.

In the Middle East, anything is possible. With one exception: that Israel would give up on itself. Or that the United States would give up on Israel.

For years, Washington has become accustomed to practical isolation in its protection of Israel.

As for the EU, it occasionally makes itself heard and provides financial assistance to Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, but its clout in the region is minimal.

We should therefore not be very surprised, or even annoyed at the new US administration's decision to put "pressure" on Iran. Barring a military intervention against Iran, the US has no other option than reinstating sanctions.

What we in the EU should do is to show some empathy for the concerns of our ally.

We should try to minimise economic losses entailed by the new American stance on Iran and on the nuclear treaty.

We should also try to understand the issue of military burden sharing. Americans have a point saying most European Nato members should live up to their words on defence spending, and also change their attitude when it comes to the use of military force.

We should also bear in mind that successive US administrations have been frustrated with the meagre defence spending of European Nato members - they just didn't express their frustration as openly as the current US president.

Preventing a crack

While war is never the solution to a conflict, often the threat or use of military power is an indispensable element in finding a resolution. We should be vigilant in preventing a crack from developing in the relations between us as transatlantic allies.

And if this crack is already there, it is imperative we do not allow it to deepen. The fact is it has been a long time since the West has needed unity to the extent we do today.

The unity of the West must be stem from a base of empathy, both in relation to the US and inside the EU.

The foul play of some British politicians aside, it was lack of empathy that led to Brexit.

Lack of empathy also caused the internal division of the EU into its central-eastern and western parts.

This division has not happened by chance or abruptly: the line was being stretched gradually.

For example, the line was also stretched in the case of Nordstream 2 as the Slovaks, the Poles, the Czechs and the Balts did not understand the need for building new capacities in a situation where the existing connection between Russia and Western Europe was sufficient.

Another frustrating moment for the new member states came when, in the wake of the global financial crisis, we were all required to equally share the burden of its consequences – especially for Greece.

This applied to those of us who played no catalytic role – and who weren't any better off in terms of per capita income than the Greeks. The handling of the massive migration crisis in 2015 was the ultimate manifestation of a European mutual lack of sensitivity.

By setting the refugee redistribution quotas in an undiscerning manner and without proper consultations, Brussels officials were 'shooting from the hip'.

However, it was very sad to see how the V4 countries did not seem to attach any importance to the efforts made by the citizens of the target countries for most of the migrants such as Italy, Greece but also Germany and Sweden.

Re-establishing internal solidarity

The EU needs to re-establish its internal solidity to defend the unity of the transatlantic alliance.

This is especially important now when it is and will continue facing increasing political pressure from the east (Russia and especially China) as well as migratory pressure from the south (Africa).

We must learn to think as Europeans and prioritise this view. It does not mean that we will renounce our national identity or interests.

It means that when outlining these interests – before they are actually enforced – we carefully consider the consequences that their enforcement would have for the other EU members. We have to learn that a problem for Germany, is also a problem for Slovakia.

And we should strive to diminish the mental distance between Paris and Zagreb, between Amsterdam and Budapest.

The Western alliance is a great thing. We are compatible because we share a common set of values. Our alliance must be protected and developed.

It was great that EU member states and officials stood firmly behind the UK government in the case of the Skripal poisoning. And it would be immeasurably greater, if we successfully manage the revitalisation of our relations with the Americans.

Mikulas Dzurinda was prime minister of Slovakia 1998-2006, and is president of the Martens Centre in Brussels, the political foundation of the European People's Party

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