Trump’s ac­tions em­bolden ner­vous Euro­peans

Once def­er­en­tial to Amer­i­cans, EU con­fronta­tional

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - STEVEN ER­LANGER

The Euro­peans have stopped try­ing to pa­per over their dif­fer­ences with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the United States.

Tra­di­tion­ally re­spect­ful of U.S. lead­er­ship and mind­ful of Amer­ica’s cru­cial role in Euro­pean de­fence and global trade, Euro­pean lead­ers nor­mally re­press or soften their crit­i­cism of U.S. pres­i­dents. They were gen­er­ally not happy with pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s re­luc­tance to in­volve the coun­try in Libya and Syria, for ex­am­ple, or his tar­di­ness to en­gage in what clearly be­came an in­ter­na­tional con­fronta­tion with Rus­sia in Ukraine, but their crit­i­cism was quiet.

How­ever, at the Group of 20 sum­mit meet­ing of the world’s in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions, public splits with Trump were the or­der of the day. Those rifts have been re­flected in Euro­pean do­mes­tic pol­i­tics, too, from Bri­tain and France to Germany, where Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has said that Europe must “take our fate into our own hands” and stop “gloss­ing over” clear dif­fer­ences.

The new French pres­i­dent, Emmanuel Macron, whose elec­tion has given re­newed con­fi­dence to the Euro­peans, said bluntly: “Our world has never been so di­vided. Cen­trifu­gal forces have never been so pow­er­ful. Our com­mon goods have never been so threat­ened.”

Macron, who waved his iPhone around dur­ing the meet­ing as a sym­bol of global trade, sharply crit­i­cized those like Trump who do not sup­port mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions, but push na­tion­al­ism in­stead.

Trump and the Bri­tish vote to leave the Euro­pean Union “have proved to be great uni­fiers for the Euro­pean Union,” said Mark Leonard, di­rec­tor of the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “There is a re­newed sense of con­fi­dence in Europe af­ter the French elec­tion,” the ap­par­ent re­treat of pop­ulism, an in­crease in eco­nomic growth and the prospect of Merkel’s re-elec­tion in Septem­ber, he said.

Jan Techau, di­rec­tor of the Richard Hol­brooke Fo­rum at the Amer­i­can Academy in Ber­lin, said: “There is now a more openly con­fronta­tional lan­guage with the United States. The Euro­pean public is al­ready out­spo­ken about Trump, but now there is a more out­spo­ken Euro­pean lead­er­ship that won’t pa­per over these di­vi­sions any­more.”

If Euro­peans had pre­vi­ously felt con­strained be­cause of their se­cu­rity de­pen­dency, Techau said, there is now a feel­ing that “Trump has no con­straints and will say any­thing, and now the Euro­peans feel they can do the same.” And, he said, “that means less re­spect for each other, and less mu­tual con­fi­dence.”

The cli­mate de­bate in the meet­ing dis­played how hard it is to iso­late the rich­est, most pow­er­ful coun­try in the world.

The Amer­i­cans did try to per­suade some coun­tries, like Tur­key and Poland, which Trump vis­ited just be­fore go­ing to Hamburg, to move to­ward the U.S. po­si­tion on cli­mate, but they were re­buffed. Tur­key’s pres­i­dent, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, said later that his coun­try might still be in play, de­pend­ing on money. The U.S. with­drawal, he said, jeop­ar­dized com­pen­sa­tion for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to cope with com­pli­ance.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May of Bri­tain, her author­ity weak­ened at home, also tried to bal­ance Trump’s deep un­pop­u­lar­ity in Bri­tain with her need for U.S. sup­port for the coun­try’s exit from the Euro­pean Union and for fu­ture trade deals. She was crit­i­cized for not mak­ing the cli­mate is­sue one of her four pri­or­i­ties, and found com­fort in Trump’s prom­ise of a “very pow­er­ful” trade deal for a post-Brexit Bri­tain that could be com­pleted “very, very quickly.”

May ex­pressed the hope that Trump might change his mind on Paris, though Merkel did not agree. And in the end, all wa­ver­ing mem­bers sided with the 19, not the one.

The White House saw progress none­the­less. “The vast ma­jor­ity of the G20 sup­ports the pres­i­dent’s vi­sion for uni­ver­sal ac­cess to af­ford­able and re­li­able en­ergy, in­clud­ing find­ing ways to burn fos­sil fu­els more cleanly and ef­fi­ciently,” said Ge­orge David Banks, a spe­cial as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent on in­ter­na­tional en­ergy and en­vi­ron­ment and lead ne­go­tia­tor for cli­mate change dur­ing the G20 con­fer­ence.

On trade, there was more ef­fort to find com­pro­mise, with pre­vi­ous G20 po­si­tions for free trade and against pro­tec­tion­ism wa­tered down to se­cure U.S. sup­port. The com­mu­niqué cited, for the first time, the right of coun­tries to pro­tect their mar­kets with “le­git­i­mate trade de­fence in­stru­ments” — word­ing that essen­tially gives Trump room to pur­sue his “Amer­ica first” pol­icy on is­sues like steel im­ports, where Wash­ing­ton is talk­ing about re­stric­tions based on “na­tional se­cu­rity.”

The group agreed to ac­cel­er­ate work on a global re­view of steel pro­duc­tion and sales, though any sanc­tions must meet the stan­dards of the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In a gen­eral way, such open dis­agree­ments can un­der­mine fu­ture co­her­ence in times of cri­sis, Eswar Prasad, a pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics and trade at Cor­nell Univer­sity, wrote in an email.

RYAN REMIORZ, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, left, speaks to Don­ald Trump at the G20 sum­mit Satur­day. The lead­ers’ fi­nal state­ment made it clear Trump’s fo­cus on Amer­i­can self-in­ter­est of­ten left him and his coun­try in iso­la­tion.

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