The EU is having some strange times and there is nothing stranger than whether or not the EU will work with Trump or against him, either politically or economically. It is also not known whether they will continue to act as a coalition or will continue to break off from the EU like in Brexit. I think they’ll stay together, but will see the benifit of working together with Trump. It’s gonna work out better for everyone that way.
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Donald Trump’s latest verbal assault on Germany, Nato and the EU is forcing the continent’s politicians to consider a challenge they hoped never to confront: dealing with the first US president since the war to champion European disintegration.
Weeks of wait-and-see thinking in Europe’s diplomatic capitals were blown away on Monday with a gust of plain-speaking rhetoric disparaging the pillars of the transatlantic relationship, and one of Washington’s closest traditional allies.
While Angela Merkel’s government tried to turn down the political temperature after Mr Trump’s interviews with The Times and Bild, it was impossible to contain the anger in Berlin at their chancellor being mentioned in the same breath as Vladimir Putin of Russia, let alone being blamed for co-opting the EU and accelerating its destruction with her refugee policy.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, said Mr Trump’s comments were met with “astonishment”, adding that he heard first-hand the “concern” of Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary-general. Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, told the Financial Times that Mr Trump’s remarks showed “the west’s political unity doesn’t play any role for him”.
The full ramifications of a real volte-face in Washington’s European outlook are difficult to imagine. The US has been integral to Europe’s postwar security and trade arrangements that have made the Atlantic one of the world’s most lucrative trade corridors.
The question in Brussels is whether Mr Trump’s agitation for more “great” Brexit moments will amplify the EU’s divisions and challenges, or galvanise the union against a perceived common threat. “Donald Trump is calling for Europe’s dislocation: that is not acceptable!” said Manuel Valls, France’s former prime minister and a centre-left candidate in its presidential elections. “We Europeans must be united and say who we are.”
Should member states rally round, it could have far-reaching implications, not just in rekindling a willingness to integrate in areas such as defence, but also in reinforcing the EU’s resolve to ensure Brexit is a warning to those who may consider leaving.
“The more they will see the UK looking to the US the more they will want to stick together,” said one senior EU diplomat closely involved in Brexit talks. “The premium on EU unity for the German chancellor is now greater than ever. She is aware of Germany’s special responsibility.”
Like many in Berlin, Mr Röttgen said he had hoped Mr Trump would soften his approach as his inauguration neared. “But he hasn’t changed at all. He says what he said on the campaign trail . . . The fact that he regards Nato as obsolete and that it doesn’t bother him if the EU is split shows he doesn’t care about the west’s unity.”
German newspapers react to Donald Trump’s interview in Bild © Getty
Frans Timmermans, the European Commission vice-president, said he was sure “sooner or later everyone in Washington” would understand the US’s strategic interest in a strong EU.
For the few European politicians who have been in contact with Mr Trump since the elections, however, the worrying signs were evident. In a post-election telephone call with Donald Tusk, the European Council president, Mr Trump’s first question was apparently which EU country was “leaving next”, according to diplomats familiar with the conversation.
Should this view be reflected in Trump policy, it would mark a revolution in US relations with Europe’s main powers, overturning what had been a historically crucial role in bringing together a war-torn continent.
Even in more recent years under President Barack Obama, the US continued to act as a stabilising force during more troubled periods for the bloc, such as the eurozone crisis and in co-ordinating a response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. With his cheerleading for Brexit, Mr Trump is threatening to act as an agent of division.
Anti-establishment parties in Italy seized on Mr Trump’s iconoclastic remarks. “#Trump and #Putin say ‘Nato is obsolete and ill-equipped to fight Islamist terrorism’. I completely agree,” tweeted Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Northern League.
Manlio di Stefano, a senior lawmaker from the Five Star Movement on foreign affairs, tweeted an image of Mr Trump’s Bild interview and wrote: “The world is changing from east to west the status quo is being shaken in every way and we are part of that change.”
Just last week, Mr di Stefano had called for Italians to vote on Nato membership in a new referendum, on top of the Five Star Movement’s call for a referendum on euro membership. “Nato is playing with our lives . . . Our territory, our bases, our soldiers, cannot be hostages to the power games and the moods of every American president,” he said.
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