How Trump Admits the EU’s Strength, Accidentally

Donald J. Trump’s actions inadvertently reveal the true power of the EU as a global player.

It is no secret that the new US President, Donald J. Trump, is not a big fan of the European Union. He has expressed several times that he does not like the European Union, and revealed his hopes that the EU will collapse in the future. Calling Brexit a ‘great thing’ is just more proof of this belief. This opinion found a practical manifestation in the highly controversial appointment of the new US ambassador to the EU: Ted Malloch. Appointing a man who compares the EU to the Soviet Union and expresses his hatred of the EU by declaring his desire to destroy it, is far from another example of Trump’s diplomatic clumsiness. Instead, it is an open and direct attack on the EU as an institution. The attack is perceived to be so severe that rumours are even spreading that Malloch might not get the necessary ambassador accreditation from the EU. Such a refusal would be an extraordinary event in European diplomatic life. Whether they are true or not, these rumours show how Trump’s EU policy is currently perceived as threatening by some European politicians and how alarmed they are, watching the new administration’s EU policies take shape.

Why is Trump opposing the EU in such an aggressive and relentless manner? He claims that the concept of the EU itself is doomed to fail; that it is an authoritarian regime that does not pay enough respect to the identities of its member states, and that it is an overly bureaucratic apparatus. However, hearing these accusations toward the EU, one might ask: “Why does he care?” Especially his criticism on allegedly anti-democratic conditions in the EU appears to be very dishonest and suspicious coming from a person who has praised Russian president Vladimir Putin repeatedly and publicly advocates torture. A true concern for the people and the member states of the EU can be reasonably doubted. All energy that Trump invests in fighting the EU can be seen as an indirect acknowledgment of the capability of the EU to properly represent its member states’ interests. By fighting the EU, Trump inadvertently reveals its true power. If the EU were a weak negotiation partner poorly representing its member states’ interests, Trump would never try to change this status. Making “great deals” for the US and putting “America First” would be easier when negotiating with weak partners. His preference for bilateral negotiations and the avoidance of multilateral negotiations clearly shows that Trump fears to be the inferior negotiation partner when faced with strong multilateral constructs such as the EU.

In this context, the EU member states should draw the clear conclusion that the current way of representing their interests, united within the EU, is the most powerful and therefore the most useful way of conducting foreign policy and international negotiations. The example of the United Kingdom shows how internationally insignificant single EU member states become once they leave the EU. Being the first head of government to visit the new US administration, Theresa May’s efforts to improve the UK’s relations with the US were not considered important enough by the American press to make the visit a front-page topic. All in all, the hostile attitude of the new Trump administration towards the EU should not only be seen as a challenge but also as inadvertent praise of the EU and an indirect recognition of its power. It should function as a stimulus for the EU to further integrate its foreign policy and to speak with one strong and united voice. Instead of fearing the future, the EU and its member states should go self-confidently into the future, keeping in mind that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Photo by Gage Skidmore