The dust has yet to settle in Europe following the election of Donald Trump as the next US president. Two EU member states boycotted emergency EU talks on how to approach the US president-elect over the weekend. The Czech Republic, which attended the summit, stressed the need to establish communication with the new US administration as soon as possible.
Brussels has seen plenty of controversy at EU summits in recent months, but this time round it was not developments in Europe that fuelled the dispute. EU member states are still digesting the victory of Republican candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential elections and views among members vary on how best to approach the incoming US leader. While EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that Mr Trump's election risked upsetting EU ties with the U.S. "fundamentally and structurally", Britain stayed away from the consultations, calling them premature, and Hungary’s foreign minister, who also boycotted the talks, said the reaction of the EU bordered on “hysterical”.
Possibly the biggest concern in Europe is the unpredictability of the US president-elect. Now one knows what line he may take on NATO, Syria, the migrant crisis, the Paris climate deal or even who will take up key posts in the new US administration. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek told Czech Television that this was all the more reason for the EU to be active in opening communication lines as soon as possible.
“There are so many outstanding issues that need to be resolved and we do not know our trans-Atlantic partner. US administrations used to joke that they did not have a phone number for anyone in Europe and we now find ourselves in the curious situation where we do not have a phone number for anyone in the incoming US administration. That is an exceptional situation, a new situation and we need to get that number fast. Waiting until January is a luxury we can’t afford –the EU is due to debate extended sanctions against Russia and other key matters before the end of the year.”
Donald Trump’s open admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin is just one concern. There are fears that Mr. Trump’s election could strengthen anti-establishment and populist forces in Europe and further undermine EU unity, already severely strained by the migrant crisis and Brexit.
Many politicians in Europe are now hoping that Donald Trump’s policy in office will differ from his election rhetoric. So, given the change of tone following Donald Trump’s election victory, what are the chances that the EU and the US will be able to maintain a good working relationship? I put that question to Petr Kratochvíl, head of Prague’s Institute of International Relations.
“I have to say I am moderately optimistic in this respect, because if you look at Trump’s domestic policy there has already been a change compared to his campaign rhetoric -on the health care system for instance and also there has been a toning-down of his critique of NATO after the elections. So I am confident that he will try to moderate his language to some extent, in some areas and I believe that one of those is collective defence, unlike other areas such as migration where I think the contentions or disagreements will persist for a longer period of time.”