Diplomats say that chaotic world events demand a unified response
They have emphasized to the US that the EU is the world's biggest economic market
In the weeks after President Donald Trump’s victory, European governments adopted a wait-and-see attitude, telling envoys not to react to every presidential tweet and watching for actual action.
That has changed.
Europe is now actively engaging the new administration. Diplomats say that chaotic world events demand a unified response and admit they see an opportunity to shape the outlook of an administration low on foreign policy experience at a time when crises abound.
European officials are in a full-court press to influence the Trump administration’s view on a slew of world issues, from Russia, Syria and Iran to the role their own continent plays in international trade and security.
The diplomatic charm offensive follows a presidential election campaign that left allies reeling as Trump questioned long-standing US support for NATO and the EU, and vocally championed Britain’s departure from the 28-member bloc.
“We can’t really afford to lean back in our chairs in Europe and not travel and not discuss these issues because we have to act jointly and we have to act now,” said a senior European official, who mentioned Syria’s war, rising violence in eastern Ukraine and a volatile situation in Macedonia.
This official said there had been debate within several European foreign ministries about whether this was the right time to go to Washington, given that the administration still has significant foreign policy job vacancies; there literally aren’t many counterparts with whom European diplomats can speak.
But a second European official said the nascent state of the Trump team’s foreign policy vision ended up being a major reason EU diplomats are descending in force on Washington, because the flux creates an opportunity to influence policy before it’s set in stone.
“Waiting until the spring or the fall – when all positions are filled and the policy review will be finished and our capacity to have an impact and our points of view taken in to account (diminished) – would not be as good,” this second diplomat said.
Diplomats said they have emphasized to the administration, which includes EU skeptics such as Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, that the EU is the world’s biggest economic market of 510 million people, that it is an important security partner and, given how integrated markets are, that protectionist moves are a “lose-lose” for everyone.
On Iran, they are pressing the US to adhere to the nuclear deal but work together on enforcement and in pushing back against Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.
On Russia – a highly charged issue in Washington right now – Europeans are urging the Trump administration not to adopt a single approach and to be aware that Russians “see us, perceive us, in enemy terms,” one of the diplomats said, recommending the US, like Europe, take a tailored approach to Russia, cooperating where possible and not yielding in other areas where it is abrogating international standards.
“We all share a preference for a much more compartmentalized approach to Russia,” the diplomat said.