Fleckenstein: Europe needs clarity on US foreign policy

Knut Fleckenstein [European Parliament]

The unpredictability offered by the Trump presidency has created a dangerous situation the likes of which has not been seen since the turmoil of the early 1990s, MEP Knut Fleckenstein told EURACTIV Germany.

Nevertheless, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) foreign policy spokesman urged calm ahead of a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Bonn. Closer ties between Washington and Moscow could lead to more cooperation between the EU members.

Knut Fleckenstein is an MEP with the Social & Democrats group.

Fleckenstein spoke to euractiv.de’s Wolfgang Tucek.

New US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be at the G20 meeting for the first time. What expectations will his colleagues have of him?

What we know of US foreign policy only really comes from Twitter or press releases at the moment. What the nitty-gritty of it actually is, we still don’t know. That’s why his 19 counterparts will have a real interest in knowing what the more tangible and specific aspects of Trump’s foreign policy we can expect going forward.

What areas need particular attention?

The protectionist line they appear to be going down and what relationship the US will pursue with Russia. Will there also be a values-orientated policy going forward and how will this fit in with our own policy? Clarity is very necessary.

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There will also be a bilateral meeting between Tillerson and his Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov. Do you expect US-Russia ties to be closer and how will the European community react to that?

It depends what happens at that meeting. The current situation with Russia is rather complicated. Perhaps new approaches and ideas for better discussions between the Europeans and Russians will actually emerge. One thing is clear though and that is countries like Ukraine must not fall victim to bilateral agreements. But, like I said, we have to bide our time before we panic unnecessarily.

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Given the current level of cohesion among the EU member states, could you say that this concern is appropriate though?

Yes. In the end it all comes down to if we adopt a common, strong European position. If we succeed, then we’ll achieve much, if we don’t, we risk paling into insignificance.

What are the chances of that happening?

If the 27 foreign ministers and 27 heads of government realise we are at a crossroads then, despite Brexit, we can maybe make our common position stronger. It’s up to us to get the best out of it.

Which common positions in particular?

A clear commitment to existing international agreements. Some have been broken lately and it isn’t just Russia that is guilty.

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US President Donald Trump has not missed a chance to criticise China. Do you think that this could actually move the EU closer to China?

That’s quite possible. But we, as Europeans, need to agree on some common rules. We can’t put ourselves in the situation where we are dealing with the Chinese economy on a unilateral basis. What Europe makes possible for China must also be the same the other way around.

The move away from a two-state solution in Israel is another example of how the US’ new foreign policy can shake the foundations of the existing world order. Is this shift going to make armed conflict more likely?

We urgently need to find out what aspects of US foreign policy will continue and where there needs to be a frank discussion between them and us.

So we are in one of the most dangerous situations since the political changes of the early 1990s destabilised things?

Yes, that’s right. When the most powerful country on Earth suddenly becomes unpredictable then there are knock-on effects that are hugely difficult to predict.

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