Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

Europeans propose new Iran sanctions to save nuclear accord in face of U.S. ultimatum

March 17, 2018


Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing and suit

Abbas Araghchi, political deputy at the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the secretary general of the European Union External Action Service, Helga Schmid, talk during a meeting between Iran and six world powers to review the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna on Friday. | AFP

Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, according to a confidential document, in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal, which was signed by world powers and curbs Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

The joint paper was sent to European Union capitals on Friday, said two people familiar with the matter, to sound out support for such sanctions, which would need the support of all 28 EU governments.

The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord by showing U.S. President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad.

Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12. It said they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” — which was sealed under President Barack Obama — or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran. U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.

The document said, “We will therefore be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles,” referring to Iranian ballistic missile tests and Tehran’s role in backing Syria’s government in the civil war.

The steps would go beyond what a U.S. State Department cable last month outlined as a path to satisfy Trump: simply committing to improving the nuclear deal.

It also reflects frustration with Tehran. “We’re getting irritated. We’ve been talking to them for 18 months and have had no progress on these issues,” a diplomat said.

European Union foreign ministers will discuss the proposal at a closed-door meeting on Monday in Brussels, diplomats said.

Analysts say the nuclear agreement, touted at the time as a breakthrough reducing the risk of a devastating wider war in the Middle East, could collapse if Washington pulls out.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif struck a defiant note toward Washington on Friday. “If the United States makes the mistake of pulling out of the JCPOA, it will definitely be a painful mistake for the Americans,” Iranian state television quoted Zarif as saying. The JCPOA is the formal name of the nuclear deal.

Image result for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, photos

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Zarif did not refer to the possibility of new EU sanctions.

The commission overseeing the nuclear accord said on Friday in Vienna that Iran was meeting its obligations under the deal.

The joint document by Britain, France and Germany said they were engaged in “intensive talks with the Trump administration to “achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of U.S. support for the (nuclear) agreement beyond May 12.”



Putin’s Key Oligarch Escapes Sanctions

March 17, 2018

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder aids Russia’s ambitions in Eastern Europe, but has dodged Western attention. 

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2017.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2017. PHOTO: FELIPE TRUEBA/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Hitting upon a potent response to Vladimir Putin were Obama sanctions targeted at his top cronies, later adopted and extended in last year’s bipartisan legislation signed by Donald Trump.

Sanctions aimed at key individuals can be surprisingly effective, it turns out. They help to undermine internal support for the regime or at least its most unattractive policies.

One oligarch, though, remains overlooked. Arguably he is the most important of all. That’s former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Mr. Putin has worked with astonishing success to reorganize energy logistics in Europe to isolate, threaten and intimidate strategic countries, especially Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic nations. Mr. Schroeder has been his vital helpmate at every step.

One of Mr. Schroeder’s last acts before being turned out of office in 2005 was authorizing Nord Stream, a pipeline bypassing key territories and controlled by Russia’s Gazprom .Weeks later, at Mr. Putin’s arrangement, he took up Nord Stream’s lucrative chairmanship.

He has since added the chairmanship of Nord Stream 2, a second proposed pipeline that Germany’s now-resurrected coalition government previously approved, though with great reluctance, at the urging of Mr. Schroeder’s former party, the Social Democrats. He added a third, impressive title in September, chairman of Rosneft, the state-owned Russian oil giant at the heart of the Putin kleptocracy.

Mr. Schroeder has been a one-man Trojan horse against every European Union commitment to curb Russian energy leverage and improve the competitiveness of its gas market. Notice that the alternative was never to shut Russian gas out of Germany. It was simply for Germany, at every step, to stop lending itself to the enhancement of Russia’s energy power, with Mr. Schroeder leading the influence brigades.

He has also been the most reliable, quotable excuser of Kremlin misbehavior. Days after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea, he rushed off to St. Petersburg to be conspicuously photographed hugging Mr. Putin. Last year’s revelation of the Rosneft job, six weeks before September’s German national elections, was an equally calculated gesture.

His bright young successor as head of the Social Democrats let it be known that he viewed the decision as “wrong” and counseled Mr. Schroeder: “You don’t have to take every job that comes along.”

Germany’s recently retired president, not known for seeking out the press, sought out the press to express disapproval of Mr. Schroeder’s promotion.

Angela Merkel publicly called the decision “not acceptable” (and then accepted it).

Thus Mr. Schroeder makes himself merely debatable, rather than intolerable. This is how “normalization” really works.

Mr. Schroeder is everything Donald Trump was supposed to be in the fevered dreams of Rep. Adam Schiff —a luxury-loving, paid-up, swaggering instrument of Vladimir Putin. Except there’s no secret about it. He can even boast of being two wives ahead of Mr. Trump. Mr. Schroeder has been down the aisle so many times that the German press dwells on his reputation as the “lord of the rings” more than it does his Putin captivity.

By now, too many Germans have apologized for him for too long to think about reversing themselves, even when Mr. Putin’s missiles shot down a Malaysian airliner. Germany’s allies and its European Union partners, including the quietly frantic Poles and Balts, can’t quite refer to Mr. Schroeder as a Putin agent nestled in the heart of Germany’s political and business elite. His name doesn’t appear on any U.S. government list. Section 241 of last summer’s sanctions law required the U.S. Treasury to identify the “most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs” behind the Putin regime. These descriptors would seem to apply to Mr. Schroeder but it remains diplomatically impermissible to say so.

A term has even been coined by students of European geopolitics: “Schroederization.” Witness the Robert Mueller indictment of Paul Manafort, with its allusions to the recruitment of retired heads of state as paid lobbyists for Russia, understood to include former prime ministers of Italy, Finland and Austria.

As a general matter, can targeting sanctions at a few well-placed individuals really help with a problem like Mr. Putin, last seen using a banned nerve agent to kill an inconvenient person on British soil?

Yes. “While Europe’s economic sanctions are having little effect on Russia, those applied by the United States dramatically affect the country and its dealings with Europe,” Germany’s prestigious Handelsblatt newspaper reported in January, referring to U.S. sanctions against Putin cronies.

By making it hard for Putin associates to do business or travel in the West, or use its financial system to protect their wealth, the West can seize up the machine that sustains Mr. Putin’s power.

A kleptocracy can’t function if its beneficiaries can’t secure and enjoy their wealth. Among those currently unimpinged in their enjoyment is former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Appeared in the March 17, 2018, print edition.

What Schroeder Says…

The US is pushing for a weaker Russia while Europe is betting on a resurgent neighbour to the east to boost trade, Germany’s former chancellor has said.

Gerhard Schroeder suggested a fault line had emerged among Western allies, with Washington seeking to “isolate Russia” while its allies on the continent, including Germany, hoped to see the country prosper.

Mr Schroeder, who served as chancellor between 1998 and 2005, called for an end to sanctions and warned against attempts to “destabilise Russia”.

Speaking at the Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona, the former head of state said: “The US believes that it is possible to isolate Russia from the political point of view, and this is dangerous from the economic point of view.”

Mr Schroeder, who was appointed chairman of Russia’s state-controlled oil company Rosneft last month, added: “I see that the United Statesis interested in a weaker Russia, and the interest of Europe and Germany is that Russia will prosper, two reasons: we need a market, especially Germany, we need resources for our industry.”

Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said it had been the policy of every US administration since the end of the Cold War to seek Russia’s integration into the world economy and global political affairs, “precisely because the idea of an isolated Russia is impossible and the idea of an impoverish Russia is undesirable”.

“The heart of the dispute between the West and Russia is not over Russia’s isolation or integration; it is over the terms of Russia’s integration,” Mr Shapiro, an expert in transatlantic relations, toldThe Independent.

Putin watches Russia’s military might on display in war games

“Both the US and Germany seek a Russia that plays by the political and economic rules, largely determined by the United States and its partners; Russia seeks a special status for its integration that recognises it as a great power with special rights.”

Mr Schroeder faced a backlash – including from the incumbent German Chancellor, Angela Merkel – after he accepted the job at Rosneft, which is subject to Western sanctions.

Some claimed he was “cashing in” on his former role as chancellor. But Mr Schroeder dismissed the criticism, saying his opponents wanted a “new Cold War”.

“Imagine if I had been proposed not for a Rosneft board position but for Exxon in America,” he said. “Nobody would ask my true motives.”

He added: “It is the largest oil company in the world, with important links to Germany. It is not the long arm of the Kremlin. They are the majority shareholder, but BP is a shareholder – not a small shop. Qatar is a shareholder.”

Rosneft also has informal ties to the Kremlin via its CEO, Igor Sechin, who is a close associate of the Russian President and who has earned the title “grey cardinal” on account of the influence he enjoys in Moscow.

Gerhard Schroeder greets Vladimir Putin in 2005 in Berlin (Getty)

As chancellor, Mr Schroeder backed plans for a pipeline between Germany and Russia. He has maintained links to another Russian energy giant, Gazprom, since leaving office and is a vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin, having once called the Russian President a “flawless democrat”.

“Compared to Mr Trump, Mr Putin is a very rational man, you have to admit,” he said.

Italy’s 5-star wants expansive economic policy, aims to reduce debt — 5-Star “wants nothing to do with extremist parties in Europe.”

March 13, 2018


ROME (Reuters) – The leader of Italy’s 5-Star Movement said on Tuesday the anti-establishment party would put forward an expansive economic policy and aim to reduce debt if called to form a government.

5-Star emerged as Italy’s biggest party from a national election on March 4, behind a center-right coalition, but neither group got enough seats to form a working majority.

“We need to adopt expansive economic policy, but with a view to reducing the debt,” the movement’s leader and aspiring prime minister Luigi Di Maio told foreign reporters. Italy has the second-highest debt in the euro zone as a proportion of output, after Greece.

Image result for Luigi Di Maio, photos

Luigi Di Maio

Di Maio said he thought there was flexibility to change the parameters of the European Union’s economic rules, an aim it shares with the far-right League, which leads the center-right.

Di Maio added that 5-Star “wants nothing to do with extremist parties in Europe.”

Reporting by Gavin Jones, writing by Isla Binnie

EU to offer Turkey more cash for Syrian refugees before Erdogan meeting

March 13, 2018

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, attends the inauguration of his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party’s Politics Academy, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, March 9, 2018. (AP)
BRUSSELS: The European Union’s executive is due to approve a further 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) in funding for Syrian refugees living in Turkey, EU officials said, before a meeting with President Tayyip Erdogan later this month.
Europe’s relations with Erdogan have been fraught in recent years but the EU depends on Turkey to keep a tight lid on immigration from the Middle East, where the war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands and pushed millions from homes.
Top EU officials will meet Erdogan on March 26 in the Bulgarian city of Varna despite misgivings among many on the European side.
The bloc’s top migration official Dimitris Avramopoulos will announce on Wednesday that the European Commission proposes the extra funding on projects benefiting Syrian refugees in Turkey, the sources told Reuters.
Turkey has accepted 3.5 million refugees from Syria, and the EU is already spending a first 3 billion euro instalment to help them.
Over a million more refugees and migrants reached the EU in 2015, most of them flowing through Turkey. Brussels agreed to pay to help host migrants on the Turkish soil in exchange for Ankara preventing more from trying to cross the Aegean to Greece.
This reduced the numbers to a trickle and this cooperation with a key NATO ally has muted EU action against Turkey over a crackdown on critics, dissenters and civil society following a failed coup in 2016.
Erdogan has also attacked EU members Germany and the Netherlands in his speeches.
The bloc has mainly responded by freezing some funding that Turkey had been eligible for as a candidate for EU entry and suspending accession talks that have long been stalled anyway.
The EU will also release in April what the sources said would be a “critical” report on Turkey’s accession bid.


Japan to urge G20 for steps to prevent cryptocurrency use for money laundering — Some nations with loose regulations have loopholes for money laundering

March 13, 2018

Image result for japanese yen, bitcoin, photos


TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will urge its G20 counterparts at a meeting next week to beef up efforts to prevent cryptocurrencies from being used for money laundering, a government official with direct knowledge of the matter said.

But the prospects for the G20 finance leaders to agree on specific global rules and mention them in a joint communique are low, given differences in each country’s approach, the official said, a view echoed by another official involved in G20 talks.

 Image may contain: one or more people

“Discussions will focus on anti-money laundering steps and consumer protection, rather than how cryptocurrency trading could affect the banking system,” one of the officials said.

“The general feeling among the G20 members is that applying too stringent regulations won’t be good.”

Finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of 20 major economies will meet in Buenos Aires on March 19-20, with cryptocurrencies set to be on the agenda.

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a 37-nation group set up by the G7 industrial powers to fight illicit finance, will report to the G20 its findings on ways to keep cryptocurrencies from being used for money laundering.

Japanese policymakers fear that while there is broad consensus among the G20 nations on the need for such steps, some nations have looser regulations than others, which leaves loopholes for money laundering, the official said.

Japan was the first country to adopt a national system to oversee cryptocurrency trading, although it carried out checks on several exchanges this year after the theft of $530 million from one exchange, Coincheck Inc.

France and Germany have said they will make joint proposals to regulate the bitcoin cryptocurrency market. A head of the European Union’s watchdog said a short-term strategy could be to focus on applying anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules, warning consumers of the risk of trading in cryptocurrencies and preventing banks from holding them.

The trick would be to apply regulations to protect consumers and prevent illicit activity, without stifling innovation in the fast-growing crypto-currency and fintech sectors, the Japanese officials said.

Editing by Sam Holmes and Neil Fullick

China, Europe Slam Trump’s Tariffs as U.S. Metalworkers Cheer

March 9, 2018

Beijing pledges to take ‘effective measures’ in response to tariffs, while some allies hold out hope

A worker manipulates coils of steel at Xiwang Special Steel in eastern China's Shandong province. China has said it "firmly opposes" U.S. President Donald Trump's tariffs.
A worker manipulates coils of steel at Xiwang Special Steel in eastern China’s Shandong province. China has said it “firmly opposes” U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs. PHOTO: /ASSOCIATED PRESS

China and Europe lashed out against new U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, while officials and executives from several American allies caught in the crossfire reacted more cautiously, embracing what the White House promised would be some flexibility in implementation.

American metalworkers cheered the tariffs for promising to breathe new life into their industry. Dan Simmons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1899 for Granite City, Ill., said the tariffs “will allow us to compete.” United Steel Corp. has said it would restart a local furnace this week, ahead of the tariffs.

That enthusiasm was tempered by warnings from American manufacturers that fear the cost of foreign steel will go up. “We are disappointed that the president has decided to move forward with tariffs on steel and aluminum,” said Eric Fanning, chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association. American farmers said they fear the tariffs could provoke China to retaliate with trade barriers on agricultural goods like soybeans. Last year, China bought $14 billion worth of soybeans from the U.S.

“We have seen that Brazil and Argentina are happy to take our place in the Chinese marketplace,” said Lynn Rohrscheib, chairwoman of the Illinois Soybean Growers.

Underscoring that fear, Beijing—the main target of Washington’s move—responded forcefully Friday to the tariffs. The country’s commerce ministry promised to “take effective measures to protect China’s rights.” Chinese metal-industry trade groups called on Beijing to retaliate against U.S. imports—from stainless steel and electronics to coal and farm products.

The impact of the U.S. tariffs on Chinese steelmakers is ultimately expected to be small, analysts say. While China produces half of the world’s steel, the vast majority isn’t exported, and shipments to the U.S. have waned since Washington imposed stiff penalties on Chinese steel products.

U.S. steel industry leaders charge that real imports of Chinese steel are far higher because they come through third parties such as South Korea, which imports and refines cheap Chinese steel for re-export. Washington promised it would sanction steel and aluminum from around the world—including from allies—to slow that flow.

Late Thursday, President Donald Trump made good on that threat, ordering tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum, due to take effect later this month. But Washington provided enough wiggle room that some allies and steel industry executives held out hope they might avoid being targeted in the end.

The U.S. excluded Canada and Mexico, contingent on negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement. Washington said other allies might win exemptions depending on negotiations in coming weeks and months.

European Union officials said early Friday they were continuing to prepare a World Trade Organization challenge to the U.S. move, as well as $3.5 billion worth of retaliatory tariffs on things like American agricultural products, bourbon and blue jeans.

“We will continue to prepare our countermeasures technically—we hope we don’t need to use them,” said Jyrki Katainen, a vice president at the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. But Brussels also appeared ready to allow time to push for its own exemption. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom is slated to meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Saturday.

“We have claimed all the time that Europe is certainly not a threat to American internal security, so we expect to be excluded,” Ms. Malmstrom said Friday.

South Korea’s trade, industry and energy minister, Paik Ungyu, said the country would continue the diplomatic push and had been offered some hope by Mr. Trump’s comment that some U.S. allies could still be spared the tariffs.

In Tokyo, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said the country would review the actions in light of WTO rules, but it didn’t directly threaten retaliation—a sign that Japan is hoping to avoid inflaming conflict with its most important ally.

There was some relief, too, among foreign metal executives that the White House showed some flexibility at the last minute.

“It feels like the administration has listened to numerous voices that expressed concern about a broader tariff approach,” said Jean-Marc Germain, chief executive of Constellium NV, an Amsterdam-based maker of semifinished aluminum products.

Write to Wayne Ma at, William Horobin at and Doug Cameron at

Lawmakers, business brace for rollout of Trump’s tariff plan

March 8, 2018

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says Mexico, Canada and other countries may be spared from President Donald Trump’s planned steel and aluminum tariffs under national security “carve-outs,” a move that could soften the blow amid threats of retaliation by trading partners and dire economic warnings from lawmakers and business groups.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the exemptions would be made on a “case by case” and “country by country” basis, a reversal from the policy articulated by the White House just days ago that there would be no exemptions from Trump’s plan.

The update came as congressional Republicans and business groups braced for the impact of expected tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, appearing resigned to additional protectionist trade actions as Trump signaled upcoming economic battles with China. Trump was expected to announce the tariffs Thursday afternoon.

The looming departure of White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has opposed the promised tariffs, set off anxiety among business leaders and investors worried about a potential trade war.

“We urge you to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers,” 107 House Republicans wrote in a letter to Trump.

Republicans nervous

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s encouraged the White House may reconsider blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum as he urges President Donald Trump take a more “surgical” approach on China and other countries. (March 6)

At the White House, officials were working to include language in the tariffs that would give Trump the flexibility to approve exemptions for certain countries.

“He’s already indicated a degree of flexibility, I think a very sensible, very balanced degree of flexibility,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC. “We’re not trying to blow up the world.”

Trump signaled other trade actions could be in the works. In a tweet, he said the “U.S. is acting swiftly on Intellectual Property theft.” A White House official said Trump was referencing an ongoing investigation of China in which the U.S. trade representative is studying whether Chinese intellectual property rules are “unreasonable or discriminatory” to American business.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said an announcement on the findings of the report — and possible retaliatory actions — was expected within the next three weeks.

Business leaders, meanwhile, continued to sound the alarm about the potential economic fallout from tariffs, with the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raising the specter of a global trade war. That scenario, Tom Donohue said, would endanger the economic momentum from the GOP tax cuts and Trump’s rollback of regulations.

“We urge the administration to take this risk seriously,” Donohue said.

The president has said the tariffs are needed to reinforce lagging American steel and aluminum industries and protect national security. He has tried to use the tariffs as leverage in ongoing talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, suggesting Canada and Mexico might be exempted from tariffs if they offer more favorable terms under NAFTA.

Lawmakers opposed to the tariffs, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested more narrowly focused approaches to target Chinese imports. But members of Congress have few tools at their disposal to counter the president, who has vowed to fulfill his campaign pledge.

“I don’t think the president is going to be easily deterred,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has suggested hearings on the tariffs.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Trump had listened to him and others who disagree with the direction of the trade policies. “I thank him for that and he’s been a good listener. The difficulty is so far I haven’t persuaded him,” Alexander said.

Republicans in Congress have lobbied administration officials to reconsider the plan and focus the trade actions on China, warning that allies such as Canada and members of the European Union would retaliate.

The EU said it was prepared to respond to any tariffs with counter-measures against U.S. products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Levi’s jeans and bourbon. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said the EU was circulating among member states a list of U.S. goods to target with tariffs so it could respond quickly.

The president plans to rally Republicans in western Pennsylvania on Saturday in support of Rick Saccone, who faces Democrat Conor Lamb in a March 13 special House election. Trump has told associates the tariffs could be helpful to the GOP cause in the election in the heart of steel country.


Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly and Alan Fram in Washington and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.



Why Europe Is Giving Up on Trump’s America

March 8, 2018

PARIS — On Nov. 9, 2016, when we Europeans woke up to the news of Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States, most of us understood that it would have a significant impact on world politics. What we did not realize at the time was how much that event would alter the basic fabric of international relations.

Over the past 16 months, we have been through roughly three stages in dealing with the fact that our first ally, the United States of America, is ruled by such an unorthodox president. We began by betting on human wisdom and political realism: Soon enough, Donald Trump, the nationalist, populist candidate, would wise up and become President Trump. Maverick politicians tend to do this in democratic societies.

Then came the “adults in the room” stage. When it became clear that there was no wising up in the Oval Office, we were led to believe that fortunately, the celebrated checks and balances of the American system were functioning. The toxic Steve Bannon would soon be on his way out. Some experienced, reliable generals were taking over; their advice would prevail. How would official Washington have reacted if generals were appointed to key posts in a French or German government? Not warmly, one suspects. But these being no ordinary times, Europeans went along with the idea.

For those who still bought it, the “adults in the room” theory took a serious beating last month at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top dogs in foreign and defense policy. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis came, but surprisingly did not take the floor. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, did speak but was very publicly chided a few hours later by a presidential tweet because he “forgot” to say that Russian interference had no impact on Mr. Trump’s election.

Senior European officials admit that however good their cooperation may be with counterparts in the Trump administration, the president’s unpredictability looms too large over decision-making. We have now entered the third stage of the great European disbelief. It could be called the “Angela Merkel was right” stage, in a nod to the German chancellor’s statement after the NATO and Group of 7 meetings last May that “we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.”

American officials keep trying to reassure their puzzled European interlocutors: “Don’t look at the tweets, look at what we do.” Repeated over and over, it is truly an extraordinary line. Think of representing your administration and telling foreigners every day: Ignore our president. But that’s a pipe dream. This president cannot be ignored because he is already profoundly transforming international relations, well beyond promoting unilateralism at the expense of multilateralism.

Will there be a trade war? Maybe not. Yet last week’s assault from the White House, like a bolt from the blue, is a taste, for Washington’s European and Canadian allies, of how low the trans-Atlantic relationship can go under President Trump. Western partners of the United States cannot expect to be treated any better than China. When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on ABC on Sunday, “There is a lot of history that needs to be undone,” he was addressing trade relations. To Europeans, this has a deeper meaning. It is post-World War II history that is being undone — the very history that the United States built, the foundation of the Western alliance.

Mr. Trump earlier pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal as part of his “America First” doctrine. The TPP is now back, revived by its 11 remaining members — without America. A world where the United States led multilateral trade agreements is ending. But nations still engage in multilateral trade pacts, as the European Union has done with Japan and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc. The United States is just not part of them.

President Trump has also pulled his country out of the Paris accord on climate change. Signatory countries are finding ways to go around this defection by working with more cooperative partners — American cities, states, corporations — just as they’ve done with trade.

The president has allowed Vladimir V. Putin and Xi Jinping, the authoritarian leaders of Russia and China, to take center stage on the global scene. As Mr. Trump was being inaugurated in January 2017, President Xi was wasting no time stepping up, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to pose as the champion of multilateralism and free trade. President Putin had already started his forays into Ukraine and Syria when Mr. Trump was elected; the Russian foray into the democratic processes of Western countries, including the United States, would be exposed soon after. By stubbornly refusing to criticize Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump shortchanges his administration, confuses his allies and weakens the American response.

Mr. Trump is also threatening to overturn one of the biggest diplomatic achievements of recent years, the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which Europeans are frantically trying to save.

By unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the president has demonstrated his contempt for international law, reversed half a century of American commitments and, in doing so, badly damaged his country’s credibility in the region.

President Trump has promoted the image of the strongman in world governance. Dictators used to be ashamed. No more. In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte can continue boasting about gunning down suspected drug dealers. In a phone call last year, circulated by the Philippine Foreign Ministry and reported by The New York Times, Mr. Trump congratulated Mr. Duterte for his “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

President Trump has shown how little consideration he has for diplomacy: More than a year after he took office, senior positions are still vacant at the State Department. There are no American ambassadors to Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey or the European Union — not to mention Mr. Trump’s indecently crude disparagement of African nations and Haiti. Diversity, once part of American soft power, has disappeared from images of administration officials. Photos of meetings at the Oval Office are crowded with white males, who also staffed the press briefings in Davos last January.

This list is incomplete. But it’s sufficient to justify skepticism at the mantra “Don’t pay attention to the tweets.”

Mr. Trump: In case you wondered, Europe is paying attention.

EU Ready To Respond If U.S. Starts Trade War

March 7, 2018


© AFP / by Clément ZAMPA | Trump’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminium have triggered fears of a trade war

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The EU will Wednesday set out plans to strike back against US President Donald Trump’s threatened steel and aluminium tariffs, with flagship US products such as jeans, motorbikes and whiskey in the crosshairs.The blow by Brussels will land hours after Trump’s trade offensive brought the resignation of his top economic advisor Gary Cohn, an influential ex-Goldman Sachs banker who fiercely opposed the measures.

No official decision by the EU is expected as Trump has yet to sign into effect his plan to set tariffs for what he calls unfair competition for US industry, but French President Emmanuel Macron has demanded Europe be ready to act swiftly if he does.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday threatened to hit big-name US brands such as Harley Davidson motorbikes, Levi’s jeans and bourbon whiskey with import duties.

This prompted Trump to fire back a threat to tax cars from the EU, further fuelling fears of a full-on transatlantic trade war erupting.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and suit

  Jean-Claude Juncker

“We are looking at possibilities to retaliate, meaning that we will also put taxes or tariffs on US imports to the European Union,” EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told the BBC on Monday.

Despite Juncker’s headline-grabbing threat to iconic US brands, the hitlist the EU is working on does not mention specific businesses, using instead the dry language of customs regulations.

Malmstrom said the EU was also looking at “safeguard” measures to protect its industry — restricting the bloc’s imports of steel and aluminium to stop foreign supplies flooding the European market, which is allowed under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Trump, elected on a promise to roll back the effects of globalisation on the US economy with an “America First” platform, said Thursday he planned to impose 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminium.

Juncker, who on Wednesday met Lakshmi Mittal, the boss of the world’s top steelmaker ArcelorMittal, said last week the EU would “react firmly” to protect European industry.

– Customs hitlist –

Europe exports around five billion euros’ ($4 billion) worth of steel and a billion euros’ worth of aluminium to the US each year, and the commission estimates Trump’s tariffs could cost some 2.8 billion euros.

As well as making it harder for European metal to find buyers in the US, tariffs could also mean other foreign producers redirect their output to the EU, pushing the market there down.

The first option envisaged by Brussels consists of “rebalancing” measures to compensate the value of the damage suffered, which it says would be in line with WTO rules.

This would mean taxing certain specific US products to send a political message to Trump — possibly targeting businesses located in states favourable to the president. It would take around three months for these measures to come into effect.

Brussels wants to maximise the political impact of its reprisals on the US while minimising the impact of a trade war on European consumers.

European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told AFP on Friday the bloc could form a “coalition of like-minded countries” to file a complaint at the WTO, though this procedure usually takes around two years.

by Clément ZAMPA