Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Opinion

Trump says 'Europe is killing us' - are we?

Donald Trump's 5 July rally in Montana presaged the storm this week, when he is expected in Brussels for the Nato summit.

While almost no-one is holding their breath for president Trump to be presidential after last year's summit, and his G7 performance, many now agree that his visit may be worse than expected.

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His most recent comments last week truly turn the world on its head. Putin is fine - and he will be rushing to meet him in Helsinki after the summit - while Europe "is killing" the US.

Defence spending will be a top issue but non-Nato issues are poised to make their way into the Brussels summit. This is because this US president sees everything meshed together, both trade and security issues.

"They make it impossible to do business in Europe; they kill us," he tells his domestic constituency, "They kill us with Nato; they want to protect against Russia; and then they go out and make a gas deal … from Russia".

We can be sure these statements will be heard again in Brussels on Wednesday (11 July), probably followed by a warning to start paying up or face a withdrawal from Europe.

Taking Trump seriously

Over the past two years, Europe has started to take Trump's warnings seriously. Some eight Nato members will reach the two percent of GDP spending target this year, from just three in 2014, and 15 will reach the target by 2024.

However, a handful of major allies will not and Trump has sent threatening letters to a number of them - including Germany.

Europeans have therefore been lamenting, as they see the transatlantic bond reaching the brink of collapse.

However, it is time for the rest of us to face our dire reality – yes this president is not making it easy; but this should not prevent us from doing our part to save it.

First, this means coming to terms with the fact that the new wind of isolationism in the US might not go away even if Trump ceases to be president after 2020.

This is not something we can change and we will face trade issues after Trump as well. Therefore, we need to engage with Trump in a meaningful way on trade sooner rather than later.

Hundreds of billions of euros in global commerce are at stake if this spills over into tariffs on auto parts.

Brutish - but right?

Second, it means acknowledging that on some issues Trump may be brutish but he does have a point.

German taxpayers do not want to pay for southern Europe but they are perfectly fine with American taxpayers paying for European security.

At the same time, Germany expects the US to be firm and tough on Russia, while Berlin is shooting itself in the foot by allowing Russia to have greater leverage by allowing the go-ahead of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

This must change.

Finally, we need to accept that in order to preserve what we have, we will need to give the elephant in the room what he wants, a grand bargain.

This can include a commitment to reach two percent by 2024, as originally agreed.

Where that is politically difficult, allies could contribute that money into a new common Nato fund which could be used towards crisis management, training, and combatting terrorism.

In exchange, Trump would unequivocally commit to Article 5 [on mutual defence] and stop toying with European security.

Germany would adopt a holistic approach to security and stop Russia's Nord Stream 2.

Yes, this would imply accepting liquified natural gas from America, but, in exchange, the US would stop its trade war and engage with the EU on free trade instead of closing in on itself.

The bottom line is that, right now, Trump finds it easy to argue that "Europe is killing us".

If we want to keep the Transatlantic bond from cracking, the rest of us need to deprive him of this argument.

Harry Nedelcu is an associate of Rasmussen Global - a political consultancy founded in 2014 by the former secretary general of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

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