Wednesday

18th Sep 2019

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

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

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".

How EU trains discriminate against the disabled

EU law requires us to give two days' notice to get the assistance we need, even for our daily commutes. We can't travel like everyone else. It is frustrating, annoying and time-consuming. In short, it is unacceptable.

Column

These are the crunch issues for 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. How EU trains discriminate against the disabled
  2. These are the crunch issues for 2019-2024 EU commission
  3. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  4. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing
  5. Trumpworld In Europe
  6. How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires
  7. Amazon fires mean EP must rethink Mercosur trade deal
  8. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us