The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has called US President Donald Trump a threat to the European Union.
In a letter to all EU member states (except the UK), Tusk mentioned the “worrying declarations by the new American administration” in a series of external threats facing the EU, which also included an assertive China, Russian aggression, instability in the Middle East and Africa, and terrorism.
“The change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation; with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy,” Tusk told the 27 heads of state and government.
His letter comes amid increasing signs that the Trump administration appears to want to undermine and divide the EU.
The Financial Times reported on Thursday that one of Trump’s top trade advisers claimed that Germany was using a “grossly undervalued” euro to “exploit” the US and its EU partners. Trump himself has made similar remarks, recently saying in an interview that he thinks the EU is economically tilted towards Germany. Trump has also personally attacked German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy on a number of occasions.
The president has also said he doesn’t care much about whether the EU is separate or together (and indeed believes more countries will follow the UK out of the EU). Part of the president’s resentment toward the EU seems to stem from a failed attempt to build a golf course on the Irish coastline (an anecdote the president often tells, omitting the environmental reasons Irish authorities provided when not granting him planning permission).
Trump’s views of the EU appear to be shared by his advisers and inner circle. Just last week, the man tipped to be his ambassador to Brussels compared the EU to the Soviet Union, and hinted that he wants to help bring it down, just like the USSR. Meanwhile, Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, has made no secret of his sympathies for anti-EU parties in Europe, including French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
Despited continued remarks about the importance of transatlantic relations and cooperation, the US president’s ban on refugees (which most EU leaders strongly condemned) and arrivals from seven majority-Muslim countries (which also affects dual nationals from the 27 EU member states) will have done little to change a rapidly growing feeling in a number of European capitals about the direction the US administration is heading.
Tusk’s letter, which was sent to 27 EU member states ahead of a summit in Malta this Friday, goes on to also list internal threats from what the president of the European council describes as a rise in “anti-EU, nationalist, increasingly xenophobic sentiment” as well as a third set of threats posed by the “state of mind of the pro-European elites” and their “decline of faith in political integration, submission to populist arguments as well as doubt in the fundamental values of liberal democracy”.
All these threats, Tusk warned, are existential: Without courage, determination and political solidarity the EU will not survive, the president of the European Council said.
“In a world full of tension and confrontation”, Tusk invited the EU’s leaders to show courage, pride and dignity, and to stand up for Europe “regardless of whether we are talking to Russia, China, the US or Turkey… and oppose the rhetoric of demagogues, who claim that European integration is beneficial only to the elites, that ordinary people have only suffered as its result, and that countries will cope better on their own, rather than together”.
In what appears to be one of several references to the UK (and British Prime Minister Theresa May's cozying up to Trump), Tusk added that “it must be made crystal clear that the disintegration of the European Union will not lead to the restoration of some mythical, full sovereignty of its member states, but to their real and factual dependence on the great superpowers: the United States, Russia and China. Only together can we be fully independent.”
The president of the European Council also said the EU should use the change in the trade strategy of the US to the EU's advantage by intensifying talks with interested partners.
And in a parting shot to Trump, Tusk said: “We should also firmly defend the international order based on the rule of law. We cannot surrender to those who want to weaken or invalidate the Transatlantic bond, without which global order and peace cannot survive. We should remind our American friends of their own motto: United we stand, divided we fall.”
At the Malta summit, the 27 will be focussed primarily on migration in the Central Mediterranean, and in particular from and around Libya. Over lunch, Europe’s leaders will "freely exchange views on other international challenges and the international situation" before going on to discuss the future of the EU.