Donald Trump has a troubled relationship with Europe. The US President has publicly berated European allies for everything from trade tariffs to defence spending, arguing that EU countries are habitually taking advantage of American generosity. Even would-be ideological bedfellows, such as Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, reportedly have a fractious personal relationship with the President.
Is this just a shift in rhetoric? Observers argue that Trump is merely giving a louder voice to existing and long-held concerns, but they argue there hasn’t been any fundamental policy shift in terms of the transatlantic relationship. In other words, the EU and the US remain the closest of friends and allies, even if they may bicker once in a while. Others, however, argue Europe can no longer rely on the United States and that the EU must take a more independent path.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Octavian, who thinks the US, under any administration, shares the same basic values as Europe and “sticks with its allies”. In other words, ignore the headlines, the EU-US relationship is as strong as it’s ever been. Is he right? Under the surface, are relations just as strong as ever?
To get a response, we spoke to David O’Sullivan, the outgoing Ambassador of the European Union to the United States. Controversially, Ambassador O’Sullivan had his diplomatic status downgraded by the Trump administration in late 2018, though it seems to have been restored since. Nevertheless, many analysts view the protocol kerfuffle as yet another sign the relationship between Europe and the US is not in a healthy place.
So, how would Ambassador O’Sullivan respond to Octavian’s comment? Is the EU-US relationship fundamentally strong?
I think the answer to that is yes. This is a relationship which has a long history, we have deep ties: both economic and commercial, which are extensive; the security relationship, and our common values, which really do bind us together very closely. We share more with each other than either of us do with any other country or region.
It’s also a relationship which has had its ups and downs. It’s not always been smooth sailing; we’ve had disagreements in the past, and we will probably have them in the future. I also think, just to be clear, that nonetheless we have to acknowledge that just as Europe changes, so America changes. The politics which are currently going on in the United States reflect a debate, an active debate, about the future direction of the United States, and we should not be complacent about the transatlantic relationship. It needs to be reinvented for every generation.
To get another perspective, we also spoke to Lauren Speranza Deputy Director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. How would she respond? Would she agree with Octavian?
I think that’s right. Overall, while US rhetoric towards Europe has significantly changed under President Trump, US transatlantic security policy on the whole really has not. Yes, Trump has indeed engaged in harsher criticism of the NATO alliance and European allies’ lack of defence spending, but as Octavian said those issues are not new. US administrations have been calling for greater burden-sharing for years, even under Obama with Bob Gates before that. So, if you look at the policy really over the past few years, the Trump administration has really done a lot when it comes to Europe on security and defence, even if most of that has been done by a select few steady-handed advisers on Europe.
[The Trump administration] has invested clearly in the European Deterrence Initiative, which really enhances US presence, activities, exercises, and infrastructure in Europe. It continues to uphold its commitments to NATO through supporting the Enhanced Forward Presence on the Eastern flank, it has continued its presence in Poland and is considering expanding that, despite drawing down in other parts of the world, and it really supported a strong, substantive summit declaration coming out of the Brussels summit last year, which I think were some of the most robust, substantive points that we’ve seen in quite some time.
So, I think, yes, the rhetoric is there, and I do think that that has done some damage to the transatlantic relationship in terms of undermining allied trust. But those values do persist; this is not an alliance of convenience, it’s about shared history, shared values, and shared security. And I think that when push comes to shove, the US will be there for its allies.
Can Europe’s alliance with the USA survive Trump? Is the EU-US relationship still fundamentally strong? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!