Top European Union chiefs meeting Donald Trump for the first time today (25 May) will push cooperation on global trade and fighting climate change as they try to show that the bloc should matter to the United States.
But European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker expect a less fraught encounter than they might have had a few months ago when Trump was praising Britain for its shock decision to quit the EU and forecasting other countries would follow suit.
Not only do EU officials believe Trump has heard other, more positive assessments of the EU’s value to Washington since he took office in January, but the failure of anti-EU nationalists in recent Dutch and French elections had bolstered the bloc.
“Since the first contacts … much has changed in the EU,” a senior EU official said on Wednesday, referring to unpromising and brief discussions with Trump early in the year.
“After the Dutch and the French elections we are in a completely different place in the EU and I think this is the starting point of this discussion.”
In January, Tusk referred to Trump as a “threat” to the world order alongside Russia, China and radical Islam. The EU will again press the new president, on his first trip abroad, not to roll back on transatlantic efforts to promote free trade or on US commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) May 24, 2017
Trump appeared confused by the EU’s complex matrix of decision-making and mixed up Tusk and Juncker in an interview in January.
Another EU official said Brussels believed Trump has since grown to be more appreciative of the club after having broken with a post-World War Two tradition in Washington of seeing European integration as good for stability and US interests.
“We saw two different Trumps,” the person said, adding that today’s meeting would help “reinforce the idea that there is movement in Europe and he will find a Europe that is more resilient than some of his earlier interlocutors told him”.
The official was referring among other things to Trump’s relationship with the likes of the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage, whose success in Britain’s Brexit referendum a year was hailed by Trump on the campaign trail as a “great thing”.
The first official said much had changed since then and the EU no longer itself feared it might be on the road to break-up: “The fact that we won’t address existential changes but (rather) talk business is a measure of progress that has taken place.”
The senior official said the message from Tusk and Juncker, who will meet Trump before he joins other national leaders for a summit of the NATO defence alliance in Brussels, would be that the EU and United States are the “pillars of the free world” and must stand united on international affairs, including conflicts in Syria and Libya, as well as North Korea’s nuclear programme.
The EU pair will see Trump again at a G7 gathering in Sicily on Friday (26 May). They are expected to discuss policy on Russia related to its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and support for a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Despite internal divisions, the EU is poised to keep in place its sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine, but its resolve may be weakened if Trump delivers on his promises of warming ties with Russia.