Trump Meets the EU
On Thursday morning, President Trump will drive into the heart of the European Union to check out the sparkling new Europa building and sit down with two of Europe’s leaders, who thus far, Trump has been unable to keep straight: European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Meeting face-to-face matters. Tusk and Juncker are two powerful men. Few Europeans would recognize them on the street, but these two EU presidents wield mighty financial coffers and legal mechanisms. Their influence should be reckoned with. That is a lesson Brussels hopes Trump will take home with him.
What’s on the Table
No one is hoping that the U.S. president will try to understand how the EU works — a political science lesson would fall on deaf ears. Instead, the meeting will try to keep things simple: Europe’s interests go hand-in-hand with those of the United States.
The European Union is the United States’ largest trading partner. Negotiations have stalled on a massive transatlantic trade deal — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. But many of the provisions have already been negotiated, and some kind of agreement may still make sense.
How Might it Go
The meeting should be short and sweet — put a face to a name, share policy priorities, and leave without offending either side.
But the wrong attitude by either President Trump or the Europeans could derail any pleasantries. Trump has little love for the EU. During the campaign, the called Brussels a “hellhole” and called himself “Mr. Brexit,” pushing other EU member states to leave the EU. Snide remarks or snubs from the president could offend the European leaders.
If ill will erupts, the Europeans can make inflammatory statements of their own. The Commission President has said that if Trump does not stop pushing for EU disintegration, he would back the secession of Texas and Ohio from the United States. Donald Tusk has also been critical, calling Trump one of the EU’s four major threats.
No controversial issues are on the agenda, and with the meeting kept so short, it should be possible to avoid substantive conflict on policy. But if the conversation veers off script, there could be many points of contention for the two sides. The EU has taken a tough line against U.S. companies — the EU antitrust authority fined Facebook 110 million euros just last week. The EU vehemently disagrees with the Trump administration on climate change. And even visa-free travel between the United States and EU may be in question. The European Parliament has suggested that unless the United States permits visa free travel for all EU citizens, it could restrict visa-free travel for Americans coming to Europe.
What is at Stake
70 years after the Marshall Plan, 60 years after the Rome Treaty, ties between the United States and Europe are at a low point. A pleasant, if uneventful meeting, will lay the foundation for more pragmatic cooperation across the Atlantic.
Missteps, however, will have enduring consequences. On their own, the United States and the EU can achieve less on the world stage. Without strong transatlantic trade, populations on both sides of the Atlantic will be poorer. Both the United States and Europe need a win on Thursday.