The Trump administration not only dislikes the European Union, it is out to destroy it. The trip by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to Europe last week was episode three of the onslaught, designed to play on east-west divisions within the EU. Episode one was Donald Trump’s 2017 Warsaw speech, infused with nativist nationalism. Episode two was Trump’s 2018 moves on tariffs, and his tearing up of key agreements such as the Iran nuclear deal and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. To which should be added his open encouragements to Brexiteers, and his decision to pull out of Syria. All of the above affect European (including British) interests in very concrete ways, unlike mere tweets or insults thrown at allies.
Europe is trying to put up a resistance. Angela Merkel, Trump’s favourite political target in the EU, received a standing ovation on Saturday at the annual Munich security conference for her speech on the virtues of multilateralism. But perhaps we have yet to fully fathom what the EU is dealing with in this new Trump era. The man now whispering into Trump’s ears is John Bolton, his national security adviser. His brand of anti-EU ideology was on full display during Pompeo’s tour of Budapest, Bratislava and Warsaw.
Pompeo has done two significant things. First, he in effect took possession of this year’s 30th-anniversary celebrations of the fall of communism in eastern Europe by waxing lyrical on US closeness to nations that fought for their freedom – all the while giving a free pass to rightwing populist governments that the EU has put on notice for their democratic backsliding. Second, through his choice of destinations, Pompeo amplified divisions between countries formerly behind the iron curtain and those that weren’t. This astutely plays on sensitivities, manipulated by demagogues, that have marred the EU’s capacity to unite in recent years.