June 02, 2017
Is this a disaster for European diplomacy?
We'd better hope that Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have their strategy for the future of Europe clearly mapped out, because their aggressive diplomacy is now creating facts on the ground. One of the questions on our mind this morning the extent to which European diplomacy is aggravating transatlantic tensions, and whether the Europeans truly understand the consequences of their actions.
There was an interesting snippet in a background report by the Washington Post this morning, on the impact of European diplomacy had on Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Macron’s comment that "my handshake was not innocent" had irritated and bewildered the president. The paper said serious efforts had been under way within the administration in the last few days to get Trump to change his mind. It was Macron’s alpha-male aggressiveness that nudged Trump towards the decision he took. Macron last night doubled down with a Tweet: "make our planet great again". Mocking Trump via Twitter may have become the favourite pastime of bloggers and commentators, but for a French president to join in is unusual.
Macron’s comments and Merkel’s beer tent speech constitute the symbols of a new transatlantic relationship. The US is not prepared for this change, but neither are the Europeans. And, unlike the US, the EU does not have the political structures and financial resources to go it alone.
We noted this tweet by Alberto Nardelli this morning:
“Am told UK declined to sign joint statement with Germany, Italy and France on Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.”
If true, this would be extraordinary. At Taormina, the UK sided with the other European countries on the substance of the climate agreement. Six members united against Trump. But the UK is not prepared to follow Macron and Merkel into outright anti-Americanism. Germany and France had an opportunity to keep the UK on board here. They are now pushing the UK into a more transatlantic position.
The next big confrontation will be over trade. We now expect Trump to follow up with a decision to impose punitive tariffs on German exported goods later this month, when the US Department of Commerce is due to present a report on the bilateral trade relationship between the two countries. Trump has yet to make his decision, but his pre-announcement, on Twitter, that he will stop the German trade surplus sound ominous.
There is also the possibility of retaliatory action from the EU. Martin Schulz threatened yesterday that the EU would block products by countries that fail to respect international rules and EU standards. While Schulz will probably not be the next German chancellor, we should not underestimate his ability to drive the German debate over the next few months. If Trump imposes trade sanctions on German goods, it is possible that Germany might over-react.
We wonder whether it would not be more sensible to regard the four-year withdrawal schedule from the climate agreement as an opportunity. It is possible, but far from certain, that Trump will be reelected in 2020. If not, there is a reasonable chance that his successor, whether Republican or Democrat, might undo the decision. It is also possible that Trump may be hounded out of office early. Even if Trump were to serve a maximum term of eight years, his successor could still opt back into the Paris accord.