November 13, 2018

Letter From Paris: ‘The Donald’ and Europe Grow Further Apart

Nicole Prévost Logan

In February 2017, the European Union (EU) members, gathered at the Malta summit, were flabbergasted by President Donald Trump’s hostile attitude toward the United States’s traditional allies.  One year later the world has adjusted in the opinion of the seasoned diplomat Hubert Vedrine, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2002).  The French diplomat commented, “One has to get over our initial disbelief as to the unpredictable and apparently erratic policy of the 45th president of the US.”

The European opinion of Trump is not monolithic.  One has to differentiate between the North and South:  heavily indebted Greece and Germany with a flourishing economy will have opposite opinions.  The same divide exists between East and West: for example, nationalist and authoritarian countries like Poland will view Trump differently from the liberal Netherlands.

The Europeans resent Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement leaving a wide open boulevard for China to become the champion defender of the environment.  Last January, the announcement made by the controversial Ryan Zinke, US Secretary of the Environment, that he would allow oil and gas drilling near almost all US coasts from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico was considered a mistake.  The French oppose the position of Trump’s administration on the use of coal and other fossil fuel as sources of energy.  France has closed all its coal mines and does not even allow fracking for oil or gas exploration in fear of endangering the environment.

President Donald Trump

The recent financial and tax reforms introduced by the US president were characterized as a fiscal war with the rest of the world by economist and professor Philippe Dessertine.   On Jan. 26,  2018 at the Davos World Economic Forum, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), criticized those measures by saying that, subsequent to creating benefits in the short term, they would ultimately impact world  financial vulnerability.  She believes that the increase in both liquidity and the budget deficit, will eventually cause a sudden drop in the stock market.  It is interesting to note that a few days after her speech, the Dow tanked and began a new cycle of high volatility.

French economists commented that lowering corporate taxes to 21 percent in the US – not that far from the 12.5 percent of Irish tax heaven – is placing the competitiveness of countries like France at a disadvantage.  It will take five years of arduous effort by French President Macron to lower French corporate taxes to 25 percent.  The French Minister of Economy and Finances, Bruno Lemaire, criticized these reforms for technical reasons.  He commented that they will penalize European subsidiaries located in the US and also be an incentive for American companies located in France to relocate to the US.

According to French economist Thomas Piketty, 68.1 percent of the US income tax reduction will benefit just 1 percent of the population, thereby increasing the already exisiting inequalities even further.  For Gerard Courteois, editorial writer of the French national newspaper Le Monde, there is an incoherence in the statement,”Make America great again,” particularly in the use of the word “again.”  Does it apply to the boom years after World War II when it actually was a time of high taxes and international trade?

Trump’s foreign policy is scrutinized by French diplomats and geopoliticians.  Vedrine describes the American president’s policy in the Middle East as a disaster.  Trump has created a confrontational axis with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey against Iran and managed to freeze the Israel-Palestine peace process.  Regarding the European Union (EU), Trump’s objective seems to be its deconstruction.  Trump applauded Brexit and asked “Who is next?”  To European satisfaction, Congress has blocked the confirmation of a Europhobe nominee as US Ambassador to the EU.  The post has not been filled to date.

Trump’s diplomacy is not sophisticated.  It is a bully approach, forever brandishing the threat of more and greater sanctions, whether in the Ukraine, Iran or Korea.  Punitive measures are even taken by Trump toward the Palestinians.  He intends to suspend financial aid because they refuse to sit at the negotiating table.

French diplomats prefer pragmatism and negotiations.  Dominique de Villepin, former foreign minister (2002-2004) and prime minister (2005-2007), believes, for instance, that one has to accept the fact that North Korea is a nuclear power and entice that country to join the international community by helping  its economic development .

However, Vedrine says one should not blame Trump for everything.  Being realistic, France and Europe are not at the center of the world today.  If the US is stepping back, it is a chance for Europe to regain its autonomy.  Villepin suggests that Europe needs to break away from US guardianship .

At the annual Munich conference on security, participants showed for the first time their intention to step up the defense of the EU.  Last year Trump had scolded NATO members for not paying their share leading to the irritation of Washington today.  To put a stop to transatlantic polemics, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, wanted to be conciliatory and declared, “The increase in the European defense budget will reinforce the NATO European pillar.”

Judging from this non-exhaustive list of disagreements, relations between Trump and Europe are not particularly warm right now — in fact, one might be tempted to conclude they are well on the way to just plain bad.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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