In 2019, the EU labelled China a ‘systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance’. What does that actually mean in plain English? Is it just about European democracy versus Chinese authoritarianism? Or is it about China and Europe having competing visions of the global international order? Because if the definition of ‘systemic rival’ includes any state challenging the multilateral, rules-based European approach to global governance, then shouldn’t that label also be attached to the United States?

On the one hand, it’s absurd. Systemic rivals? European states are democracies sharing core values of freedom and human rights with the United States. We’ve been partners and allies for generations. Trump may declare trade wars on Europe and gripe about defence spending, but those are surface differences. There’s more that unites us than divides us.

On the other hand, is it so absurd? The Trump Doctrine, if it can be described as such, argues that naked self-interest by all free nations will organically produce a more peaceful, harmonious world order. Well, the world certainly doesn’t feel more harmonious in January 2020. To the EU (conscious of the dark places nationalism can lead) Trumpism clearly represents a rival system. So, how is the US not a systemic rival?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Mikko arguing that the US can be both Europe’s ally and its rival at the same time. This was also the point made by the European Commission when it labelled China simultaneously a systemic rival and a close “cooperation partner” – one does not necessarily exclude the other.

To get a reaction, we put Mikko’s comment to James Bindenagel, a former US ambassador and now senior non-resident fellow with the German Marshall Fund, as well as a Henry Kissinger Professor at the University of Bonn and director of the Center for International Security and Governance (CISG).

Is the US, like China, a “systemic rival” of Europe? What would he say?

No. In China, you have a commitment to state capitalism and less concentration on values. The willingness of the Chinese people to accept that, and to increase their living standards in order to better survive, means they tolerate things that we won’t in the West.

On our side, we have disagreements when it comes to things like NATO, but those are manageable issues as long as we can keep our commitments to the common values of peace, liberties, and human rights…

What exactly is Trump’s vision of the global order? And is it completely at odds with the EU’s vision? When President Trump spoke in front of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019, he argued that the “free world must embrace its national foundations. It must not attempt to erase them or replace them… The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots.”

We had a comment from Olivier, who thinks the EU should take inspiration from Trump and adopt a “Europe first” approach in response: “I just think that Trump is not so bad. He defends American interests and the American middle class. He is doing the job American’s ask, and they want America first. That is exactly what the European middle class want: Europe first!”

To get a response, we put Olivier’s suggestion to David O’Sullivan, former Ambassador of the European Union to the United States (2014-2019). Would he agree?

Well, I think we in Europe have learned that countries putting their nation first does not always end well. Which is, I think, why we have tried to invent a new business model for the continent. We recognise the importance of national identity and culture, and our countries will always be unique – France will be France, Italy will be Italy, Portugal will be Portugal – but there are ways of cooperating which deliver better outcomes for our citizens than trying to compete or be antagonistic with one another. I think the European Union is an excellent demonstration of that.

Respectfully, when President Trump says that the future does not belong to globalists but rather to patriots, I would say that globalists can also be patriots. What is best for your country? What makes your country safest? I think it is international cooperation. It is acknowledging that our neighbours – our immediate neighbours, but also even faraway countries – have legitimate interests, and asking how we can cooperate in a way that takes account of that.

So, I think you can reconcile globalism with patriotism. Putting your country first does not mean that you see that as antagonistic to other countries; what is in your country’s best interest may well be to promote a world in which there is collaboration and cooperation rather than confrontation or even war between nations, which is where some of that thinking has led us in the past.

Is the USA now a rival of Europe? Should the EU take inspiration from Trump and adopt a ”Europe first” approach? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock (c) Dilok; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Bindenagel (c) CISG CASSIS Uni Bonn


20 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Chris

    Now? Hasn’t it been always?

  2. avatar
    Bogdan

    Now it isn‘t. The reason we are living in wealthy countries is because of their support. Europe is turning back USA.

    • avatar
      Róbert

      You mean Europe turns its back on USA? No we don’t. It’s just swagger and bravado, but we ain’t actually stupid. In terms of values, we see different nuances of the same color. Today we lean to progressivism, they lean to conservatism. Tomorrow roles could be switched, who knows what’ll people vote.

  3. avatar
    Παυλος

    It’s something worse, a bad ally/partner

  4. avatar
    George

    “now” has been for decades.
    “now” has just starting to become evident to the EU politicians, who are sleeping at the wheel. Then again, there’s nothing much they can do. Germany is practically military occupied by USAn fores.

  5. avatar
    Catalin

    No. If USA is now a rival of Europe, what would you call Russia? EU and USA have their differences but to say that this makes them rival is simply unfounded.

    The Trump Doctrine vs EU isn’t in conflict either. As David O’Sullivan said, national identity and culture can work hand in hand with cooperation. There is nothing wrong with “USA first!” or “Europe first”. Putting your country first doesn’t mean hating other countries, it is absurd to expect a country to be a self-sacrificing saint at the expense of its own citizens.

  6. avatar
    Franz M

    No, not rivals, but we share no fundamental values with Trump. Especially if he is re-elected we will have to assume that the American electorate or the electoral process respectively is not reliable seen from a liberal democracy stand point.

    In any case I would welcome an EU indepenent frum the US in terms of defens and foreig policy. Akigned as often as possible, but nkt dependent anymoere.

  7. avatar
    Maria

    No of course not. EU should stand with the USA. They are protevting já for a long time. I dont trust Europian polítics

  8. avatar
    Ingrida

    USA interferes too much and violates privacy of people One country itself cannot control the world Sh*tdogs Sh*t on everything what’s beautiful

  9. avatar
    Tom

    As one of my friends from Europe told me, thank heavens US presidents only get two terms tops. Keep calm and ♥️

  10. avatar
    Franck

    It’s Europe’s rival, but it’s EU master. Here’s the point.

  11. avatar
    Paul

    Another sign of europe’s preoccupation with itself.
    Europe and – especislly EU is becoming less and less relevent to the USA..the last decade and a half has seen the inexorable rise of China and the equally inexorable decline of europe. ..in terms of growth…share of world trade…political engagemrnt and influence in all the fast growing economies (eg Africa).
    USA retains its leadershio position due to its economic and military strength…but its focus is increasingly eastwards…not westwards.

  12. avatar
    Dionis

    Why “Now”?! Obama and Trump are 2 sides of same coin when it comes to the effect of their politics on the EU, no matter which of the two is more direct in speaking. Actually concerning american influence, the EU is currently influenced mostly by the effects of what happened during Obama’s times (check rise of anti-EU right wing parties), and less by what Trump is doing. The effects of Trump administration are yet to come.

  13. avatar
    Franz

    No, not rivals, but we share no fundamental values with Trump. Especially if he is re-elected we will have to assume that the American electorate or the electoral process respectively is not reliable seen from a liberal democracy stand point.

  14. avatar
    Jan

    Rival in a negative sense?-No, rival in a normative ‘want to better yourself/nation/team… yes’. Does not every country want the best for its citizens?

  15. avatar
    Corrado Pirzio-Biroli

    I agree with David O’Sullivan. But I wish to add that a new factor : Populism It has spread in the US and several European countries and may continue to do so for some time. The internet of things should have helped democracy, but has made it more difficult to manage. Manipulating the internet helps autocracies. Populists steer public opinion by playing on its darker instincts. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is difficult to put it back. Populism currently feeds national rivalries. Trump will have a lasting influence in the US, in contradiction with its check-and-balances system, as well as in the World with his opposition to multilateralism and his unpredictability, uncontrolled by Congress. As long as leaders attach priority to personal (reelection) interests ,and politicians to party interests, democracy is in question and loses out to populism. This is no model to convince autocracies to change their ways. In economic matters, notably trade, Trump is the most dangerous leader today. Lets hope that his paranoia and unpredictability does not engender worst conflicts. Where is the EU in all this? In political matters, the vanity of its politicians prevents it from having a common defence and a common foreign policy and the lack of financial integration with an Eurobond prevents the Euro from playing a larger role as a world currency, leaving the US capable, through the dollar system and connected sanctions, of imposing their will on everybody else’s trade. This is one reason why Trump can be so dangerous for the international economic system. But weakness, and tradition, keeps European criticism in check and allows to keep up the illusion that Europe can continue to leave its further integration,for tomorrow.

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