The Brief – The Lion and the Unicorn

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

The perils of dealing with Donald Trump have been spelt out in technicolour to the wounded British Lion, who must be wondering why nobody gives her a break.

‘Dysfunctional, unpredictable, diplomatically clumsy and inept’ were some of the phrases the UK’s man in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, used to describe the Trump administration in memos he sent back to London.

That’s nothing that hasn’t already been said by a host of Washington insiders over the past 30 months. The problem with Darroch, a former UK ambassador to the EU, is not that he said what is self-evidently true but that these undiplomatic remarks found their way to the press.

A bizarre, diplomatic Mexican stand-off has now ensued.

Trump instantly declared Darroch persona non grata. The UK says they won’t be bullied into firing him, though trade minister Liam Fox was dispatched to Washington at the start of the week to apologise to Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

In fact, what seems to upset this uniquely thin-skinned US President is that the Lion has, if not exactly roared, then certainly raised its paws in self-defence.

A spokesperson for Theresa May doubled down on Monday by insisting that Darroch would not be sacked, and adding that it was “hugely important that ambassadors are able to provide honest, unvarnished assessments of the politics in their country”.

That prompted Trump to respond as only he can: with a series of tweets describing May as “foolish”, and adding that “the wacky ambassador that the UK foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy.”

The timing of the leak of comments made in summer 2017 – just before a new prime minister, likely to be Boris Johnson, takes power – is very suspicious. So, too, is the fact that the leaks were sent to Isabel Oakeshott, a right-wing writer who is close to Nigel Farage and Arron Banks.

Whoever leaked Darroch’s remarks could hardly have done more damage to the UK civil service, which Farage & co spent the European election campaign denouncing as unpatriotic and institutionally anti-Brexit.

Brexiteers have set great store in the prospect of an ambitious or, to use Trump’s vernacular, ‘huge’ or ‘awesome’, transatlantic trade deal. Farage & co would like to see Darroch replaced with a Brexiteer business leader (or by Farage himself).

But Brexiteers should be careful what they wish for. The idea that the UK can expect a generous trade deal from a Trump administration is yet another unicorn. A protectionist like Trump has no interest in increasing US imports of UK goods and services.

Besides, bullies have to be faced down. It’s time for the lion to roar.

 ‘Better buildings for a better future’

Tackling the twin crises of climate emergency and inequality will require a full transformation of the EU building stock within three decades. Find out how Europe can deliver healthy, sustainable and affordable energy-efficient homes for all its citizens in Eurima’s action plan.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Designated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has started her charm offensive among political parties in Brussels. The European Greens have set tough conditions for giving their approval.

The European Parliament’s new president, David Sassoli, is “reasonably optimistic” about the vote on whether to confirm Von der Leyen.

Faced with opposition from the member states, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was unable to block the replacement of the Romanian and Estonian Commissioners, who were elected as MEPs and already took their MEP seats.

The distribution of the various key positions within the European institutions needs to take into account a delicate balance between geographical and political origin. In this complex exercise, some fared better than others.

EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker pledged support and financial assistance to conflict-riven Ukraine during a visit to Kyiv.

Britain’s main opposition Labour party moved a step closer to a policy that could see it reverse Brexit — but only in some circumstances. The party finally backed a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, bringing an end to several years of uncertainty and equivocation by saying it would support the Remain option.

Central Asia is facing increasingly severe environmental challenges. The EU is offering help to the region to turn those challenges into opportunities.

On a visit to Baku on Tuesday, European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU and Azerbaijan were “coming closer to each other every year”, and expressed the EU’s readiness to further deepen cooperation with Azerbaijan, including in fields such as human rights.

The world’s biggest climate fund eyes more efficiency and private funding.

Look out for…

European Parliament Committees elect their chairs for the next term tomorrow throughout the day. Stay tuned with this infographic in which we already solved the power-sharing puzzle for you.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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