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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

The EU response to Trump

The European Union has been putting its house in order as a possible second Trump presidency looms after the presidential elections in the US in November, writes Manal Lotfy

Manal Lotfy , Tuesday 29 Sep 2020
The EU response to Trump
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“The ‘Trump Doctrine’ earns President Trump a third Nobel Peace Prize nomination!”

This was a tweet proudly tweeted by US President Donald Trump on Tuesday, adding that “might as well mention this because it will never be reported by the lamestream media!”

The nomination by Australian law professors met with joy from Trump in a week in which he was widely featured in the news after a New York Times investigation in the US revealed that Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire, had paid just $750 in US federal income taxes both in 2016, the year he ran for the US presidency, and in his first year in the White House.

Explaining why he had decided to nominate Trump, Australian law professor David Flint told the satellite TV channel Sky News that “the Trump Doctrine is something extraordinary, like so many things that Donald Trump does. He is guided by two things, which seem to be absent from so many politicians. He has firstly common sense and he is only guided by national interest, and therefore, in our circumstances, an interest in the Western alliance,” Flint said.

“What he has done with the Trump Doctrine is that he has decided that he would no longer have America involved in endless wars, wars which achieve nothing, but the killing of thousands of young Americans and enormous debts imposed on America. He is really producing peace in the world in a way which none of his predecessors did. He fully deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Few European leaders and officials would agree with this assessment, however. The reality, as they see it, is that the world is going through tough times, partly as a result of actions taken by Trump. There are unprecedented tensions between China and America, between China and India and between America and Iran, to mention a few.

Many countries are suffering from bitter internal crises, including Syria, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Venezuela and Afghanistan.

The positive narrative that Trump produced in his recent UN General Assembly speech was alien to many in Europe. While Trump talked about his successes in achieving peace between Serbia and Kosovo and between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, he did not say a word about Russia or the situation in Syria, Lebanon or Libya.

He did not say anything about the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean either, which US officials say is a top priority for the Trump administration.

Although the pressing issues the world is facing necessitate unprecedented international cooperation, to find a vaccine against the Covid-19, for example, or to cooperate to prevent the world from plunging into a severe economic crisis, or to address global warming, Trump gave the opposite advice.

He called on world leaders to clone his “America First” doctrine.

“For decades, the same tired voices have proposed the same failed solutions, pursuing global ambitions at the expense of their own people. But only when you take care of your own citizens will you find a true basis for cooperation. As president, I have rejected the failed approaches of the past, and I am proudly putting America first, just as you should be putting your countries first. That’s okay – that’s what you should be doing.” Trump said in his speech.

But the parallel world Trump lives in is nothing like the world of the EU. In his speech at the UN General Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron described the world today by saying that “our shared house is in disorder. Its foundations are hollowed out. Its walls are sometimes cracked by the blows of those who built it.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her remarks that “anyone who thinks he can get along better on his own is mistaken. Our well-being is shared. And so is our suffering. We are one world.”

Both Merkel’s and Macron’s comments seemed to be directed at Trump and his “America First” policies. In the European leaders’ view, Trump has no big international successes to his name and has instead ruined America’s reputation and alienated its friends. His policies regarding Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and Syria have been failures. His Middle East policy is undermining the chances of real peace.

The worry for the EU is that because of the lack of any significant achievements, Trump in his possible second term as US president will be more aggressive both internally and internationally.

The prospect of a Trump second term in office has also prompted the EU to speed up its own housekeeping amid many pressing challenges.

After the EU reached a historic agreement on a €750 billion coronavirus pandemic recovery fund that saw it introduce the concept of common debt across the Union, the European bloc has now also unveiled a long-awaited migration pact, aiming to streamline the asylum process among member states to fix what EU leaders acknowledge has been an ineffective system.

Migration policy has historically been a thorny issue in EU politics, and the new pact aims to create a single policy and to better share the burden of relocating asylum-seekers by allowing member states to contribute by returning individuals who do not qualify for asylum or providing logistical support.

EU leaders also hope to create faster border-screening processes at the bloc’s external borders. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the new pact would strike a “reasonable balance,” with all member states sharing “benefits” and “burdens”.  She added that it was not a question of “whether” the EU states should contribute to the bloc’s asylum policies but “how” they should do so.

A key aspect of the new pact on migration and asylum allows EU countries that have been reluctant to take in migrants, such as Poland, Hungary and Austria, to contribute by returning migrants who do not qualify for asylum or by helping with logistical support at the bloc’s borders.

The pact will introduce an integrated border procedure, including pre-entry screening for people crossing external borders. The EU Border and Coast Guard Corps will also be deployed from 2021 onwards to provide increased support, a press statement said.

Von der Leyen said the EU would work with the Greek authorities to manage a reception centre in Lesbos for migrant arrivals. The new screening at borders should take a maximum of five days, EU leaders said. There will also be health checks and decisions about which country will be responsible for individual migrants.

From the European perspective, these steps are going in the right direction to prepare for a possible second term for Trump in the White House. If the first term was difficult, the second term is likely to be even more so, and so it has been advisable to prepare by tidying up a messy European house.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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