After welcoming remarks by Tereza Novotna, Mario Telo introduced the event by asking several questions: to what extent does Donald Trump’s approach to transatlantic relations represent continuity or change to previous administrations; did we reach a critical juncture in the EU-US relations leading to a long-term structural transformation, or will Trump’s Presidency be only a temporary deviation; and, finally, do developments across the Atlantic pose an existential risk, or do they provide an opportunity for Europe?
In his contribution, Tim Oliver drew out several points from the Dahrendorf Forum and LSE IDEAS report ‘New Challenges, New Voices: Next Generation Viewpoints on Transatlantic Relations’ that was written by eight young academics. For Oliver, the report highlighted six themes. First, that for both sides the depth and scale of relations mean US-European relations remain the most important for both. But as he went to note, the relationship faces four challenges: the shifting attention, especially for the US, away from Europe; growing uncertainties over European defence with a clear decline in the US’s emotional investment in European security; doubts about the viability of the EU project; and growing illiberalism across the West. Concluding he noted that whether the closeness of relationship can survive depends on the response of Europe, less so the US.
In her presentation, Tereza Novotna summarized findings from her chapter on TTIP in the LSE IDEAS report arguing that, until Donald Trump’s election as the US President, it would have likely been Europe’s fault should TTIP’s ratification fail due to public discourse among national leaders who do not defend in their national capitals what they agreed on in Brussels, such as the TTIP mandate, and, secondly, due to the European Parliament which started using the TTIP debate in the institutional turf wars. However, given the current White House’s anti-free trade rhetoric, Novotna continued with outlining 5+1 scenarios for TTIP under Trump’s Presidency: 1) from TTIP being ditched as TPP was on Day One through 2) TTIP-light; 3) TTIP at the back of the negotiations queue and 4) continuation of TTIP talks as usual up to 5) rebranding the deal to Trump-TIP as the preferred option both for the US and the EU. Novotna concluded with an additional 5+1 scenario of renaming the agreement to TT-UKIP by including the ‘brexiting’ UK into a trilateral free trade deal between the US, EU and the UK.
Geoffrey Harris looked at the influence of domestic politics on transatlantic relations. He considered rather unusual the prominence of Trump in the politics of various countries, mentioning the controversy over his planned visit to the UK and the competition between Merkel and Schulz over how to stand up to the new US Administration. Similarly, for Harris, Brexit has been highlighted in US politics in line with anti-EU rhetoric associated with the views of Presidential strategist Steve Bannon and the Breitbart media network which has long established ties with UKIP and other anti-EU parties in Europe. As developments continue to unfold in unpredictable directions, it remains to be seen how European views of Trump, currently rather negative, will evolve especially in view of various European visits by the new President in the coming months. According to Harris, Brexit and the US election raise issues of the functioning of democracy (e.g. attacks on media, judges, established institutions) as highlighted by Francis Fukuyama in his book “Political Order and Political Decay.”
For Richard Tibbels, President Trump has not changed through the office but is still in a campaigning mode. Although it is striking how slow the confirmation process of Trump’s team is, it is unclear how much influence various secretaries will have over the White House advisors who enjoy a better access to the President. Donald Trump has been elected on the domestic agenda and, according to Tibbels, the EU will be closely watching his proposals on: a) tax reform (e.g. any border tax that would affect all trade partners); b) deregulation (which could make continuation of any TTIP negotiations difficult). Fighting ISIS/Da’esh is a clear foreign policy priority for the new Administration, but despite HRVP Mogherini’s visit to Washington and VP Pence’s assurances on the US support for NATO and the Minsk Agreement, other issues are less clear (the US does not seem to want to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal but might want to impose new sanctions on other issues; the US funding to the UN system might diminish) and with mixed messages (e.g. on MEPP, One China Policy, Paris climate change deal). HRVP Mogherini therefore tried to emphasize two factors: 1) the EU is a union of 28 Member States (and not of “faceless bureaucrats”) and is here to stay even after Brexit; 2) the EU is important to the US because of economics (i.e. the EU is the largest FDI provider in the US) and security (i.e. in fight against terrorism through, for instance, Europol and in a fairer burden-sharing via an increased EU role in defense since the EU Global Strategy). On a way ahead, Tibbels noted that the EU must continue sending simple messages but also think off how to get them across, work with various stake-holders (e.g. Congress, businesses, civil society) and partners (e.g. G7/20) and, most of all, carry on with its own agenda.
President Trump has shown that he is committed to delivering on his campaign promises which is worrying for Democrats as he is moving to dismantle President Obama’s policies on health, environment, immigration, human rights and foreign policy. This alongside the growing dis-respect for freedom of speech and the checks and balances is most troubling for Sandrine Dixson-Declève. As a spokesperson for Democrats Abroad Belgium, she also acknowledged that the growth of populism and reality TV politics has left the Democratic Party in a deep questioning mode as to how to best respond to both Trump and his voters. It is therefore important to develop a new approach to reaching out to the American people and prepare for the upcoming Congressional elections. Dixson-Declève believes that global leaders are also asking themselves how best to negotiate with the President, as diplomatic behaviour has been replaced by a more business-like approach where the development of personal relations and agreement on softer issues before negotiating complex issues seems to be more effective (e.g. Trudeau’s and Abe’s visits). On the other hand, as Sweden recently learned, the old approach of issuing a strongly worded statement doesn’t work. A formal response will be lost amidst the headlines and Trump’s preferred media channels or social media which will have already framed the issue. The fact that no Ambassador have yet to be appointed under the Trump Administration has not helped transatlantic relations. That said Ms. Dixson-Declève believes that this also could be an opportunity for Europe to show its leadership within NATO and to reach out to China, Mexico, India and other parties.