Wednesday

8th Feb 2023

Opinion

2019: Need for EU action

  • The EU needs to continue bringing together like-minded countries and stand firm on principles of free trade, an open society and multilateralism (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

US president Donald Trump's Christmas surprise caught its allies off-guard when he decided to pull out of Syria and withdraw half of his troops from Afghanistan. It also prompted his defence secretary to resign.

He also caused global market tremors by suggesting he would like to fire the Federal Reserve's president amidst a government shutdown.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

As Carl Bildt, the former foreign minister of Sweden, tweeted on 25 December: ''The US president is now in open conflict with the US Congress, the US Federal Reserve, the US secretary of defence, China, the EU, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and a couple of others. Otherwise it's OK.''

These events and earlier actions by Trump suggest a gloomy outlook for 2019, in which more political and economic trouble can be expected.

Comrades no longer

"An ally should be dependable'', French president Emmanuel Macron has said.

However, Trump's actions again show the US under his leadership is increasingly unreliable: he had not consulted European allies, nor the Syrian Kurds, who are key to fighting the Islamist militant group Isis.

It all follows a pattern of deteriorating transatlantic ties.

Trump has repeatedly picked fights with other Western leaders, questioned Nato's existence, and even called Brexit a great development.

Earlier rash decisions to quit the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal, not to mention his political brawling during the last G7 summit with Western friends, also left European allies perplexed.

Instead, Trump choose to please authoritarian leaders such Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who now has a free rein in attacking the Syrian Kurds, with a recent military build-up at its borders showing 2019 could bring more regional instability.

Political hooliganism

With his 'America First' doctrine, Trump openly defies the multilateral world order the US built after WW2. His trade wars threat to pull out from the WTO underline this.

The mercantilist behaviour shows he perceives global trade as a zero-sum game, in which one either benefits or loses.

His recent political hooliganism on the Federal Reserve chief harmed the value of US companies.

So much for the credit he has claimed for having boosted US commerce!

Trouble for Europe

Sadly, Europe will face the consequences of this behaviour.

More military conflict due to the power vacuum left in the Middle-East could bring higher migration flows.

His defence chief, James Mattis' resignation is also worrying.

Mattis did it because his views did not align with Trump on respecting allies and upholding and partnerships.

With most moderates in Trump's administration having been kicked out or resigned, 2019 could be an even more turbulent year for transatlantic ties and global stability.

This all the more so, given that his room to manoeuvre in domestic policy will be constrained after the opposition Democrats took over of the House.

The Kremlin could be encouraged to make a new military adventure in Ukraine and to increase election meddling abroad, with 2019's European Parliament elections a likely target.

Free trade also remains at risk, with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's ''ceasefire'' with Trump likely to falter.

As the eurozone lacks the infrastructure to withstand economic shocks, it remains vulnerable to a potential economic downturn.

The need for pragmatic big compromises

The changing international environment implies the need for the EU to step up its responsibility.

The problems in its neighbourhood, amidst a rising China, an aggressive Russia and a retreating, isolationist US require focusing outwards.

However, to show strength externally, the EU must overcome divisions internally over migration and eurozone reform, which have polarised the bloc and impaired its ability to take effective decisions.

Ambitious compromises from national leaders are needed, who must avoid thinking in Trump's zero-sum terms.

This requires fixing the eurozone's unfinished architecture, which divided north and south, and finding a permanent solution for the migration issue, which split west and east.

Need for unity

Member states should stick together in a world where the EU has been left to fend for itself.

To maintain influence, more effective decision-making capabilities are needed - with less room for national vetoes - in defence and foreign policy.

Next year's EU parliament elections could prove crucial here, given the downfall of mainstream parties and rising nationalism and populism.

This requires a broad coalition of pro-EU parties from the left to the right who support a strong and united EU.

It is not so much about ideology here, but about survival and being prepared for a less stable world.

Working together is needed for the sake of pragmatism or even realpolitik.

In addition, the EU should continue bringing together like-minded countries and stand firm on principles of free trade, an open society, and multilateralism.

If populists and nationalists really care about national sovereignty, they ought to realise they can only maintain and leverage real sovereignty in a strong EU that cooperates closely with its allies.

The alternative of an ever more divisive (and lonely) EU in a multipolar world could imply we will end up being rule-takers, rather than rule-setters.

Robert Steenland is an associate at the Warsaw-based Centre for International Relations

Disclaimer

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

US allies in dismay at Trump's Syria pull-out

EU allies have voiced dismay on Trump's sudden idea to pull out of Syria, amid fears of a resurgence in Islamist terrorism, Kurdish massacres, and fresh surges of refugees.

Europe can fill security gap left by US in Syria

With US forces leaving, there is a realistic scenario that Turkey would seize the opportunity to invade Rojava, killing the aspirations of the Kurds for autonomy in a federal Syria in the future, similar to the situation in Iraq.

Putin tests new missile to frighten Europe

Russia has tested a "hypersonic" missile capable of a nuclear strike anywhere in Europe, in what Russian president Vladimir Putin called "a great New Year's present for the country".

Column

Why Europe's interminable compromises are a virtue

All member states complain about European compromises, each for their own reasons. Nevertheless, these decisions tend to be robust precisely because there is enough in them for everybody. And nobody wants to start negotiating all over again for another deal.

Wales' message to Europe: 'We'll be back'

The scars of Brexit have left their mark in communities across Wales. The Menai mussel industry has experienced a sharp decline having once been a staple in fish counters and restaurants across Europe; its business model wrecked by post-Brexit rules.

Column

Why Europe's interminable compromises are a virtue

All member states complain about European compromises, each for their own reasons. Nevertheless, these decisions tend to be robust precisely because there is enough in them for everybody. And nobody wants to start negotiating all over again for another deal.

Latest News

  1. Polish MEP also went on freelance Azerbaijan trip
  2. Why Europe's interminable compromises are a virtue
  3. Wales' message to Europe: 'We'll be back'
  4. MEPs to vote on risky 'hydrogen for home heating' rule
  5. The man who won't stop filing info requests until every EU doc is public
  6. EU hands Libya coast guard boats ahead of migration summit
  7. Eleven suicides daily — Spain's not-so-silent pandemic
  8. The return of Lula means now is the time for EU-Mercosur deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWWEU Social Dialogue review – publication of the European Commission package and joint statement of ETUFs
  2. Oxfam InternationalPan Africa Program Progress Report 2022 - Post Covid and Beyond
  3. WWFWWF Living Planet Report
  4. EFBWWEFBWW Executive Committee report on major abuses, labour crime and subcontracting
  5. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  6. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  2. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us