The Brief: Mike Pence’s promises to the EU are meaningless

The Brief is euractiv.com's evening newsletter

THE BRIEF: MIKE PENCE’S PROMISES TO THE EU ARE MEANINGLESS

Today brought the US vice-president’s first official visit to Brussels and the first taste of the Trump Tea Party for presidents Juncker and Tusk.

Mike Pence has all the charisma of a chair leg but with less capacity for love, compassion and charity. He styles himself as a devout Christian but his political career has been driven and defined by hate.

He hates abortion. He hates man-made climate change. He hates gays, stem cell research and refugees. He hates reporters and refused to take any questions from the press. Even the foreign minister of Cuba, no democracy, managed to do that on his visit.

The Trump administration has drawn unflattering comparisons with George Orwell’s 1984. If Trump is Big Brother then Pence is his little brother; a sunken-eyed giggling crony egging on the school bully.

He parroted a few platitudes about the importance of EU-US relations for world peace.

They were greedily greeted with nods by Donald Tusk, who was understandably doing his best to make the best of it.

The EU needed something, anything, to rebut all the convincing evidence that Trump doesn’t like the EU.

Pence offered empty assurances but with caveats. He said the US would hold Russia to account but added that Trump was looking to break new common ground with the Kremlin.

Frankly, who cares what he actually said? Why would anyone believe a word of it? This is a man who would happily condemn thousands of women to deadly, backstreet abortions.

Unlike his boss, he didn’t even mention the horrific tragedy in Sweden. The one that never happened. Of course, no one should blame the Commission for not lowering the flags half-mast in memory of all the people who didn’t lose their lives.

Regardless, Pence isn’t the guy who counts; Donald Trump is. Tusk and Juncker need to get him on side.

Trump and Juncker have something in common. They both know how to make deals. Juncker wheeled and dealed Luxembourg out from being a crisis-hit backwater to a prosperous tax haven.

He is made of sterner stuff than the draft-dodging billionaire and occasional bankrupt.

Trump is a silver-spooned scion of a property magnate; Juncker was the son of a steelworker who made himself a world leader.

But it will take all his tricks, experience and negotiating nous to tame Trump, who has no interest in a unified Europe and simply can’t be trusted.

THE ROUNDUP

After an unenthusiastic reception from EU leaders in Munich, Mike Pence was greeted by a small but angry crowd of protesters in Brussels. Pence said it was “heartbreaking” to think of the Brussels bombings last year, which the White House recently put on a list of supposedly underreported terrorist attacks.

The world looked on in consternation yesterday as Sweden became the victim of Donald Trump’s latest imagined terrorist attack. The ensuing furore on social media forced the president to reveal his source as a debunked news report. But shortly before today’s Brief went to press, Trump tweeted again about the Swedish tragedy.

The European Commission today quickly quashed reports by Italian daily La Repubblica that Jean-Claude Juncker is ready to step down as head of the EU executive. Chief Commission Spokesman Margaritis Schinas later channeled Trump when he criticised the reports as “fake news and alternative facts”.

Once a rank outsider, Martin Schulz has now edged in front of Angela Merkel in the race to become Germany’s next chancellor. A poll in German weekly Bild am Sonntag showed Schulz reeling in once disaffected SPD voters to reach 33% approval, while Merkel’s CDU slipped to 32%.

Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has denied he said Greece would be forced out of the eurozone if it fails to reform. He reminded cash-strapped Athens that “European law does not allow debt relief”.

The EU would not welcome the UK back with open arms, even if Theresa May takes her finger off the Article 50 trigger, senior EU diplomats have said. Brexit is “bureaucratically embedded” and even if it made a U-turn, Britain could not hope to hold onto its current privileges, they said.

S&D group Vice-Chair Udo Bullman told euractiv.com he is “totally hooked on football” and said if he had not become a politician he would have been a sports journalist.

LOOK OUT FOR…

Eurozone finance ministers meet tonight in Brussels to try to find a breakthrough in Greece’s bailout programme. European partners and the IMF have disagreed over the sustainability of the Greek economy, and Athens has been reluctant to adopt more adjustments, making it harder to wrap up the second review of the bailout scheme. The Greek government needs to pay €7 billion in July and urgently needs to unblock funds before elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany further complicate bailout negotiations.
Views are the author’s

The Brief is EURACTIV’s evening newsletter