Are Trump and Putin enemies

Rendezvous of the EU enemies - Trump meets Putin

Berlin (Reuters) - From the point of view of EU diplomats, the order of battle on Monday was very simple: In Helsinki, the EU opponents met Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin - i.e. those who want to weaken the EU, if not even destroy it.

In Beijing, those who currently want to strengthen the Union came together - the leaderships of China and the EU institutions. The fact that such an analysis is being made shows the radical change in worldview since Trump took office. In fact, the transatlantic relationship has been a cornerstone of European politics since the end of the Second World War.

"The USA even promoted European integration for decades because it was in their interests and ensured stability in Europe," said the director of the Science and Politics Foundation, Volker Perthes. But Trump made the change clear in a CBS interview when he described the previous partner EU as an “enemy” or “opponent” (“foe”). His attacks at the NATO summit, against Germany and then also Great Britain are perceived as so abusive that EU Council President Donald Tusk is now officially accusing the American President of “fake news”.


The anti-EU stance is not a surprise either with Trump or Putin. Western secret services and governments have been warning for years that Moscow's strategic goal is to divide the EU. The earlier hopes that Russia and the EU could form a kind of Eurasian economic union have vanished at the latest since Putin's return to the presidency. The Ukraine-Russia conflict in 2014 escalated relations, and both sides imposed sanctions.

It is an open secret that Putin wants to destabilize the EU as a whole with hybrid warfare that includes disinformation. For example, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution blamed Russia for a hacker attack on the Bundestag and warned of Russian interference in the Bundestag election campaign. The right-wing populist FPÖ in Austria also maintains a strategic partnership with Putin's ruling party. The contacts of the right-wing extremist Lega in Italy to Russia are also considered close.

Even with Trump, the anti-EU stance is ultimately not surprising - like Putin, he too has sympathy for right-wing populist parties and politicians in Europe, such as Ukip boss Nigel Farrage in Great Britain. Like Putin, he sees the multilateral, liberal EU as an enemy for his nationalist worldview, says an EU diplomat. As early as 2016, after the Brexit referendum, Trump had openly said that he hoped that more states would now leave the EU. Last week he added that the EU was only founded to harm the US - especially in trade. So the “enemy” utterance is just the icing on the cake in a long argument. Almut Möller from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) spoke of a “frontal attack on the EU” on Deutschlandfunk. "He wants to weaken this union."


Despite all the commitments made by EU Council President Tusk, for example, to the transatlantic partnership, there has long been a debate about how the EU should position itself strategically. SPD parliamentary group vice-president Achim Post calls for “global alliances of reason”. And if you look at the EU agenda this week, it actually seems to be being diligently tinkered with: The world's largest trading powers, the EU and China, want to move together - after this was already emphasized at the German-Chinese government consultations last week.

On Tuesday the EU and Japan want to sign a comprehensive free trade agreement. "We have to deepen the relationships with the international partners who share our ideas of a rule-based order," says the State Minister in the Foreign Ministry, Niels Annen (SPD). “This opportunity exists because Trump really brought movement to international trade talks. Japan, Mexico and Mercosur countries are looking for partners themselves. "

But the situation is not that simple. On the one hand, the NATO summit made it clear how much Europeans are militarily dependent on the USA. Because the two largest nuclear powers, the USA and Russia, still decide on war and peace in Europe and the Middle East, as the example of Syria shows. In addition, there are the different interests of alternative partners. During his visit to Berlin, China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang emphasized that Beijing had a great interest in a strong EU and a strong euro - also as a multipolar antithesis to the USA.

“But China, too, tends to be interested in dividing the EU states politically,” warns ECFR Europe expert Josef Janning. "They think a market is good, but not its political control." In addition, Europeans complain about the same problems with market access and the protection of intellectual property in China as Americans. “The answer cannot be to throw China on the chest,” says FDP parliamentary group vice-president Alexander Graf Lambsdorff.


The Europeans agree that they now have to act themselves in order to assert themselves. Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron insist that the EU must act from a position of strength and unity. “Unity is the order of the day for the EU not only in trade policy,” warned the Union's foreign policy spokesman, Jürgen Hardt. Only the Europeans argue among themselves in many areas. To make matters worse, the EU and Great Britain will lose 15 percent of their economic power in May 2019.

They also disagree strategically: While Germany wants to stick to its tradition of open markets and distance between companies and politics, Macron and others consider this to be naive. “The EU needs a vital internal market, an improvement in innovative capacity and an industrial policy geared to the risks posed by great powers,” says ECFR expert Janning.