Trans-Europe Express: NATO summit to get a taste of ‘America First’

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

As NATO leaders prepare to meet next week in Brussels, US President Donald Trump will likely ruffle a few feathers if he brings the ‘America first’ dialectic into the meeting and wreaks havoc within the alliance.

Take Italy. Insisting that NATO members meet a mandated requirement of 2% of GDP on military spending, Trump told Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni that his country must “pay up” for NATO during a meeting in April.

“We were joking, and I said ‘You have to pay, you have to pay’. He’ll pay, he’s going to end up paying,” said Trump, who, if you didn’t already know, is a businessman.

Any such demand on Italy can only be controversial, given the state of its economy at the moment.

Suffering from 13.9% unemployment, rising to over 22% in the south, the idea that member states like Italy fulfill their NATO spending commitments seems especially cruel.

“There will be no ifs or buts about leaving the F-35 program,” said Tatiana Basilio, a Five Star member of Italy’s parliament during a rollout of the party’s defence manifesto on last week.

The lawmaker’s statement was nothing new.  Having committed to purchasing 90 F-35 fighter jets for $94 million each, the Italian government has come under intense criticism from the populist party.

Though two variants of the aircraft are being assembled in Italy, analysts concur that the economic benefits are ultimately minor.

It is all helping contribute to a feeling among voters that the country’s defence spending is too high – $21.9 billion in 2016 alone– and that cheaper alternatives, such as the Italian-co-produced Eurofighter Typhoon, do not need replacing yet.

“Of all the funds provided for industry by the ministry of industry, 85% go on defence programs and we want to change that,” 5 Star senator Bruno Marton told Defense News.

Populisms are likely to clash. Any reduction in defence expenditures would set the Five Star movement on a collision course with the US president.

Particularly given the fact that the US is desperately trying to reduce unit costs for the much-maligned stealth fighter. Under pressure from President Trump to make the aircraft more affordable, manufacturer Lockheed Martin is pushing larger buys, in the form annual block purchases from F-35 customers abroad.

It’s not a big jump to assume that though America’s NATO partners ought to be more cognizant of American financial contributions to the alliance, the US is certainly not averse to leveraging European debts to finance its own defence programs. Never mind several million unemployed Italians, or the country’s at risk financial sector.

Indeed, as this article was being drafted, Lockheed Martin was lobbying Spain hard to replace its navy’s AV-8 Harrier jump jets with the vertical takeoff version of the F-35, partially assembled, ironically, in Italy. Unfortunately, the sales effort flies in the face of even greater economic malaise. With an unemployment rate standing at 20%, Madrid can hardly afford to spend several billion euros on a new fighter.

If only Trump’s demands for greater European defence spending took such statistics into consideration.

 

The Inside Track

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Romanian family values. 33 MEPs have written to the Romanian parliament, urging legislators not to vote in favour of a referendum on amending the definition of a marriage in the constitution from “between spouses” to between a man and a woman.

Redneck country. A new study has found that Poland is among the EU’s least tolerant member states. The study by ILGA-Europe, which is campaigning for political, legal and social change for LGBTQ persons, gave Poland 18 out of 100 points.

Take away their iPhones. EU ministers agreed to continue long drawn-out talks with Poland to stop its alleged breaches of the rule of law, backing away from threatening sanctions. Brussels may yet decide the rule of law has been violated by Warsaw.

Communication breakdown. The chief the UN mission in Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, warned of rising tensions and a weakening of trust between Belgrade and Pristina during Tuesday’s UN Security Council session.

First the Kurds, now Greece. Is Ankara trying to start another regional war? Turkish fighter jets and helicopters illegally entered Greece’s airspace 141 times on Monday, the Hellenic National Defence General Staff reported.

Schulz was the wrong choice. Chancellor Angela Merkel dealt a devastating blow to her main rival on Sunday (14 May), four months before national elections, when early results showed her party securing a strong win in a regional vote in Germany’s biggest state.

Views are the author’s.