Will Trump declare war on the EU?

Not in a literal sense, of course, with bombs and armies, but it is a reasonable question to ask given some of what he and his closest supporters have been saying over the last few days.

Trump himself has made no secret of his hostility to the EU. The outgoing US ambassador to the EU has said that he believes Trump wants to see the EU break up. And one of those tipped to take over that role  has indicated that he would like to see the US doing bilateral trade deals with EU countries.

That highlights the existential threat to the EU posed by the new US administration. Because, as Trump advisers will well know, the EU negotiates as one group with states outside it. One result of that arrangement is that it gives the EU collectively a stronger negotiating hand in trade deals than individual EU member states. If individual states in the EU wanted to negotiate bilateral deals with the US (or any other country), they would have to leave. It looks as if some at least in the Trump administration want to encourage other EU states to leave, tempted by favourable deals, and that is a process which, if it took off, could well lead to the eventual disintegration of the EU.

Think for a minute about the way the USA would respond if the EU tried to do what it seems Trump might want to do. Can you imagine the reaction if senior EU figures announced they would be backing secessionist movements in part of the USA? And yet that is what the new administration appears to want to do to with the US’s closest allies and partners for decades.

I’ve wondered why Trump seems to have this visceral hostility to the EU. Part is no doubt a gut hostility to the liberal values and culture which Europe is still seen to represent. Part will probably be a wish by a politician who boasts he is a ‘deal maker’ to strengthen his hand in some sort of primeval battle between nation states. If the EU breaks up or weakens, the US will be in a stronger position in negotiations, not just in trade, but in all international relations with individual European countries.

But at the heart of his hostility, if we can discount some of the more lurid theories why Trump seems to prefer authoritarian and illiberal Russia to the democratic and liberal EU, is perhaps this. For Trump and his advisers, the EU is the strongest world institution which stands for cooperation between nations rather than competition. The EU’s vision of states, and the world, setting up frameworks and binding agreements to tackle pressing problems of humanity such as climate change, world poverty, and the refugee crisis is anathema to them. Even though the EU has fallen short so often in its efforts to tackle those and other problems, it nevertheless stands for the noble vision of harmony between nations. Trump, I am afraid, gives every sign of being someone who sees the world as an arena of conflict where success goes to the mightiest.

As Ted Malloch, tipped to be the next US ambassador to the EU, said a few days ago: “Trump is very pro-European but he is not well disposed towards the European Union or other supranational organisations”.

I suspect that puts it mildly. Europe must recognise the threat it faces from the Trump administration and develop a strategy which recognises the enormity of that challenge. To hope everything will turn out alright is to assume that Trump doesn’t mean anything that he says. Even if he only believes half of it, that could be enough to destroy the EU, and at its most extreme, the stability and peace of all Europe. Maybe he won’t turn out as bad as I fear. But I would rather not count on that.

First published on the author’s own site



  1. Joe Mellon says

    The US has been conducting economic war with the EU for decades. At least with Trump we know where we stand.

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