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Europe

Europe's uncertainty after Trump's first 100 days

media During a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni on 20 April 2017, US President Donald Trump said a strong Europe is "important" to the US. AFP/Saul Loeb

Saturday marks the 100th day since Donald Trump took office as president of the United States. European observers say his foreign policy positions remain unclear, even if he has shifted position on several issues outlined during his campaign.

Trump’s administration appears to be approaching international issues like with “classic Republican, hardline” positions, Frederic Charillon, professor of political science at the University of Clermont, told RFI.

And yet, the United States’ long-term policies remain uncertain.

“We have the impression that when [Trump] talks about international relations, it’s not very clear and he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about,” said Charillon. “We don’t know what he thinks, we don’t know his methods. And uncertainty in international relations is always destabilising.”

The Paris climate agreement is a good example. Trump as a candidate promised to withdraw from the 2015 agreement, but since then, he has indicated the US could stay in it, if it can renegotiate the terms.

His position on Europe has also shifted. During the campaign he was dubious of the European Union, and welcomed Britain’s vote to leave it.

But last week, in a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Washington, Trump said a strong Europe is “very, very important to me as president of the United States and it's also in my very strong opinion… important for the United States,” adding that the US would help the EU “be strong”.

“It’s half reassuring and half frightening,” says Charillon about Trump’s backtracking. “It’s reassuring because we can think, after all, he’s someone who accepts to come back on things that he said. On the other hand, it’s never very reassuring when you have an American president who admits that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

And yet, Trump has made some moves welcomed by Europe, like his decision to bomb a Syrian military position after a chemical weapons attack blamed on the Syrian military.

And Nicolas Tenzer, a professor of international affairs at Sciences Po university in Paris, says the Trump administration has been shifting its stance on Russia, becoming more critical.

“Most of the major people in Trump’s administration mention quite often that the Russia threat is true, and that we have to counter this threat, especially in Europe,” he told RFI. “But there is still no clear strategy. We have no clear view of the next step of US engagement in Ukraine, if there is one.”

Europe, says Tenzer, could step in to fill the void made by Trump’s uncertainty. And yet, the European Union cannot be counted on to do so.

“The EU in itself does not have the capacity, but I think the German and French leader, German French couple, with other allies in Europe, could shape something new,” he says.

But this will take time, and will depend on the outcome of the 7 May French presidential election, and elections in Germany in September.

 Europe needs to get its own house in order, but Tenzer is optimistic: “We have a lot of problems, but I think there is a clear opportunity. And I think in the long run… the US could be happy if Europe shows more willingness and resolve to be a strong voice in world affairs.”

 

 
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