Europe Is Trying to ‘Trump Proof’ the Transatlantic Relationship Before the US Election

The European Union is looking at ways to lock down improvements in its working relationship with the US in case Donald Trump wins next year’s presidential election.

(Bloomberg) — The European Union is looking at ways to lock down improvements in its working relationship with the US in case Donald Trump wins next year’s presidential election. 

Officials from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, told senior trade officials from member states last week that they need to make agreements “Trump proof,” according to people briefed on the discussions. 

That means acting quickly to nail down binding agreements with the Biden administration, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private conversations. Member states were also told to be realistic about how much tougher negotiations could become if they fail to move quickly, they added.  

Trump, 77, holds a commanding lead over his rivals in the contest for the Republican nomination, despite his mounting legal troubles, while the EU is still trying to find a permanent solution to the dispute over steel and aluminum imports that blew up last time he was in office. 

That four-year term shook the foundations of the transatlantic relationship as Trump questioned Europe’s security guarantees, attacked the World Trade Organization and launched regular broadsides at countries like Germany for supposedly taking the US for a ride. And that underscores how difficult the task will be, even if agreements are supposedly binding. 

Trump also walked away from the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and slapped punishing tariffs on steel and aluminum. He sent the US stock market into a tailspin — and provoked a tit-for-tat response — after imposing billions of dollars in levies on Chinese goods.

“Many, many things were a total shock,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in an interview with Bloomberg Television this month. “Hardly anybody in Europe could imagine there would be a US president who would question NATO.”

Europe must be ready to work with Trump if he wins, she said, and it would be “naive” not to prepare for such an outcome.

Baerbock is among the European officials seeking to ensure that the EU isn’t be caught out again if Trump can complete a political comeback. 

She visited Texas this month to build ties with Republican officials. Other EU governments are also reaching out to the GOP and trying to identify people who might end up being close to another Trump administration, a senior EU diplomat said. 

There is concern, the diplomat said, that a second Trump term could be worse than the first because the frequent chaos of his previous four years in office could deter well-qualified people from joining the administration. 

“President Biden is committed to developing strong, lasting agreements with key partners around the world,” a spokesperson for the US National Security Council said. “Every initiative and commitment we have pursued with the EU is designed to be enduring in both form and substance.”

While Biden’s rhetoric may be more conciliatory than Trump’s, and his alignment with the EU over Ukraine has helped to repair the transatlantic relationship, EU officials are conscious that his trade policy still has much in common with his predecessor’s America First approach. 

The Europeans were shaken, in particular, by Biden’s $390 billion-plus subsidy program to support green technology, which offers companies an incentive to shift investment from Europe to the US. 

That’s another thing they want to get resolved before next year’s election. 

European officials are aiming to resolve disputes over both the steel tariffs and the subsidy program when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visits the White House on Oct. 20, the people said.

The bloc is nearing an agreement with the US on critical raw-materials that would allow European manufacturers to benefit from some of the tax credits offered by the US. 

The commission is also seeking concessions on issues including renewable energies and local assembly requirements to qualify for electrical vehicles subsidies. 

The bloc has also raised concerns about the support provided for EV charging points and “Buy America” provisions in infrastructure projects where European firms risk being excluded.

In addition, senior EU and US officials are exploring new agreements on supply chains, artificial intelligence, export controls or standards under the Trade and Technology Council.

At their meeting in Zaragoza, Spain, last week, the European side discussed the need to conclude any political agreements with the US in a way that is binding in order to avoid a return of past disputes, according to people briefed on the the discussions.

–With assistance from Jenny Leonard.

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