Back in 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel greeted Donald Trump’s victory with an extraordinary warning: that she would work with the US president on the condition that he respect democratic values. Things did not improve from there.
Four years later, Trump’s abrasive foreign policy moves, often unveiled in all-caps tweets, have alienated not just Germany but much of Europe.
“The transatlantic relationship is practically on life support,” said Sudha David-Wilp, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Even if Democratic challenger Joe Biden wins the November 3 election, experts said there will be no magical healing of the EU-US rift.
Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center found that America’s image among Europeans has plummeted to record lows, with just 26 percent of Germans now holding a favourable view of the superpower.
From pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal to slapping tariffs on EU steel and aluminium, and defanging the World Trade Organization, Trump has dealt blow after blow to multilateralism, a much-valued European approach to global challenges.
He stunned allies by describing the European Union as a foe on trade, and “scared people” by cosying up to Russia, said Bruce Stokes, an associate fellow at Chatham House, a British think-tank.
Trump also regularly targeted European allies its failure to meet Nato’s defence spending targets.
Should Biden win, he “will see the need to revitalise relationships with allies,” said David-Wilp.
Expect the former vice president to make a trip to Europe early on, rejoin the climate pact and restart nuclear talks with Iran, experts say. But areas of friction will remain on military spending, Nord Stream 2, and Washington’s campaign against Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Faced with a Covid-19 battered economy, Biden will probably eschew Trump’s more protectionist tendencies but some sort of “America First” vision for sensitive industries will likely live on.
Should Trump be reelected, expect “a great sucking in of breath” across European capitals, Stokes said, and “another four years of a very rocky ride”.
But even under Trump 2.0, it is “entirely possible” for the US and EU to form a united front when it’s in their self-interest on issues such as the coronavirus or China policy, Stokes said.
Peter Beyer, Merkel’s transatlantic coordinator, recently told AFP that a “new Cold War” between Washington and Beijing had already begun, and that Europe should “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with the US to face a rising China.
An unintended side effect of the Trump turbulence has been the growing realisation that Europe must speak and act more as one.
The bloc’s successful negotiation of a huge coronavirus stimulus package, spearheaded, suggests a new impetus for closer cooperation and a reinvigorated German-Franco partnership.
There are plenty of obstacles ahead for the 27-member club with its disparate interests.
“But if one wants to say the glass is half-full, the Trump presidency may have helped accelerate European unity,” Stokes said.