EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

  • Since his election, U.S. President Donald Trump, has drastically altered the basic fabric of international relations.
  • Moving the country in a path of isolation, Trump has diluted European allies’ confidence that the United States is a reliable partner in upholding commitments and agreements.

Trump’s “America First” approach has made it very difficult to maintain a multilateral, cooperative world order. Less than a year and a half into his term, Trump has reversed nearly half a century of America’s commitments. He has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, imposed a travel ban on 7 Muslim-majority countries, revoked U.S. participation in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal consequently imposing secondary sanction effecting European countries, disengaged from the UN Human Rights Council, imposed tariffs on aluminium and steel effecting European allies on the grounds of national security, and behaved erratically in the G-7 Summit when he departed from the agreement last minute.

In the eyes of Europe, the recent actions of the President have tarnished his credibility as a leader. In a poll of 36,000 EU respondents, conducted by Bertelsmann Stiftung, President Trump’s approval rate fell from 29% to 23% from March to December of 2017.

Although a few members of the EU, such as Poland, had high approval of President Trump, most of the large and predominately Western, EU countries did not. The December 2017 survey yielded a 10% approval in Germany, 14% approval in France, 20% approval in the UK, 34% approval in Italy, and 14% approval in Spain. Despite the low approval rates and increasing skepticism of the President, most countries in the European Union do not wish to see an end to the close cooperation with the United States. In answering the question of ‘should the EU go its own way’, 40% believes they should not, 25% believes they should, and 35% answered the question with ‘neither’.

The U.S. retains an extensive economic and military influence in the region, which enhances the motivation to preserve a strong Atlantic alliance. Although the sense of ‘needing’ the United States remains widespread throughout Europe, the President’s diminishing credibility may tarnish the credibility of the country.

The reputation of one person and one administration can have an enormous effect on the future credibility of the country as a whole, and without credibility, the country will be unable to build essential alliances. President Trump’s view of international relations as a zero-sum game has already damaged America’s international reputation, and the longer the President lurches the country on a disparate and unpredictable path, the more Europe will forget America’s extended history of guarantor of the international system and liberal order. The current U.S. foreign policy has caused the United States’ most important allies to question the country’s legitimacy of its superpower status. Can Europe depend on the United States going forward? Is this lack of stability in the transatlantic alliance temporary, or is Trump’s behaviour leading to a major-reorientation of allies and partnerships worldwide?

In a New York Times article, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council stressed that, “Europe must do everything in its power to protect the trans-Atlantic bond, in spite of today’s mood. But at the same time, we must be prepared for scenarios in which we must act on our own”. A scenario worrying Tusk is the possibility that the hostility of the United States is not a result of one administration, but the first symptoms of the breakup of the Western political community.

There is fear that even after Trump’s presidency, the U.S. will not be interested in confirming shared commitments to a rules-based international order. For this reason, the future of transatlantic relations between the European Union and the United States is obscure.

If the United States continues to isolate itself by withdrawing from withstanding international agreements, Europe must be prepared for an independent future.

Stephanie Palma


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