Written by Elena Lazarou,
Over four months into the Trump Presidency, several analysts concur that it is still difficult to make sense of President Trump’s ‘Europe policy’ and, consequently, to forecast the course of transatlantic relations under the Trump administration. The issues that currently occupy the media tend to be those on which the divergence between the positions of the EU and the new administration are greater than with the previous one. This has particularly been the case in recent weeks, following the President’s first trip to Europe.
Between 25 and 27 May 2017 President Trump visited Brussels and Taormina (Italy) to attend the NATO mini Summit and, subsequently, the G7 Summit. On these occasions, he met with top EU officials, including the Presidents of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council, Donald Tusk, and European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.
At the NATO mini Summit, President Trump focused on two of his most longstanding positions with regard to the Alliance: on the one hand, that it should be more involved in the fight against terrorism and, on the other, that burden-sharing must be more equally distributed among the Allies. In an unusual break from previous US Presidents, he did not clearly articulate his country’s continued commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty in which the principle of collective defence is enshrined. Following US pressure, the Allies committed to drafting national plans that will outline how members intend to reach their 2 % spending pledges by 2024. They also decided to involve NATO in the Global Coalition against ISIL and to set up a NATO terrorism intelligence cell.
In advance of his trip, the US President had announced that he would make a decision regarding the Paris Agreement on Climate change after the G7 Summit. Following the failure of the G7 leaders to reach an agreement on this issue, on 1 June, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US from the Agreement. In response to this decision, the EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, stated that the EU will ‘strengthen its existing partnerships and seek new alliances from the world’s largest economies to the most vulnerable island states’. The Commissioner also voiced the EU’s intention to work together with US businesses, citizens, and communities that are taking ambitious climate measures and support the Agreement’s aspirations. As early as at the EU-China Summit on 2 June, Beijing and Brussels pledged to work together on tackling common energy and climate challenges.
While these developments mark a change of course in the US approach to NATO and, even more so, to climate change, other Trump administration policies suggest continuity in foreign policy, transatlantic relations and global affairs. China and possibly the Middle East may prove to be such cases, with a question mark still looming on how President Trump’s Russia policy will evolve. A review of Trump’s term thus far sheds light on some of these issues.