European Union foreign ministers conceded Sunday that they will have to wait to see what moves U.S. president-elect Donald Trump makes in the weeks ahead and work on strengthening Europe’s role in world affairs until the future of trans-Atlantic relations becomes clearer.
At informal dinner talks in Brussels, the ministers underlined the importance of respecting the choice of U.S. voters and making contact with Trump’s transition team.
“We’re going to have to see what positions the new administration takes in coming months,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said after the meeting ended. “The debate right now is to see how the European Union can boost its voice in the world.”
EU nations are anxious to see how many of Trump’s campaign announcements — like isolationist positions on security, his rejection of international trade pacts and refusal to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin — might translate into real policy.
But Reynders denied that it was an emergency meeting or that Europe is in disarray. “What would be bizarre would be to talk about the American elections around the world but not among foreign ministers,” he said.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni noted that Trump does not take office until January, and that Europe has plenty on its plate until then, such as the refugee emergency and economic issues.
“Europe should be taking care of its own problems and not worrying what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic,” he said.
Given Trump’s clear opposition to major trade pacts, EU officials are all but certain that the massive Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, will have to be renegotiated, if any life remains in the project at all.
Perhaps the most pressing problem is to understand how Trump wants to deal with Putin.
The EU has imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and destabilizing role elsewhere in Ukraine. Some of those measures, including asset freezes on individuals and organizations, come up for renewal in January.
EU leaders are due to discuss them at a summit in Brussels on Dec. 15-16, but any signal from Trump about a warming of U.S. relations with Russia is likely to embolden already-reluctant countries like Germany, Italy and others to push for an end the sanctions regime, diplomats said.
The foreign ministers meet again formally on Monday, to discuss strained ties with membership candidate country Turkey, the conflict in Syria and Libya, and defense cooperation with the NATO military alliance.
Ahead of Sunday’s dinner, NATO’s secretary-general appealed for trans-Atlantic unity and warned that “going it alone” wasn’t an option for either Europe or the U.S.
Writing in Britain’s Observer newspaper, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Europe and the U.S. must work together in the face of security challenges.
The president-elect has suggested that Washington could abandon its NATO commitments, which include mutual defense in case of attack.
“We face the greatest challenges to our security in a generation. This is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the United States,” Stoltenberg wrote.
Meanwhile, Britain distanced itself from the European meeting, suggesting it intends to take a different approach to Trump. Officials said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — who has told his EU counterparts to snap out of the “general doom and gloom” and “collective whinge-o-rama” following the U.S. election result — would skip Sunday’s talks.