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Transatlantic security now requires a more balanced relationship

Euro-View: Marietje Schaake on transatlantic relations

Marietje Schaake

Where Russia’s new assertiveness has revived the lost art of Kremlinology, the election of a new President to the White House has spawned the science of Trumpology. Analysts watch Donald Trump’s every move, trying to discern whether changes to the National Security Council mean a change of policies, or if a tweet by the President could be the first hint of new legislation.

In European policy circles, the Trump-watchers try to predict what the new American course will be and answer the most important question: what will it mean for Europe and the transatlantic relationship? Does an American step back from the global stage present the EU with an opportunity? More importantly, would the EU be willing and able to rise to the challenge?

There are no obvious answers to these questions, but one thing is clear: Europe needs to strengthen its own agenda and position to become a more equal partner in the transatlantic relationship.

The relieved reaction amongst European leaders to US Vice President Mike Pence’s reassurances of continued US support for the EU at the February 2017 Munich Security Conference prompted many sighs of relief. But it is disturbing that we need reassurances from our most important ally.

While the transatlantic relationship will not become irrelevant all of a sudden, it is clear it has taken a blow. Trump has challenged, even attacked, values we cherish –values deemed unshakable since the Second World War.

Trump’s attacks on the rule of law, on media and journalists, and those on minorities, immigrants and women: all touch on more than just the political relationship. They have a profound impact on how European citizens view the United States. This situation shows that principles need continuous reinforcement, to make sure that promise and practice come closer together.

The transatlantic relationship is about more than agendas, priorities, security and trade: for many, the relationship and our commitment to it is personal. It is woven into the fabric of our families and friendships, and the transatlantic relationship has become a part of who we are as individuals and as societies.

American graves across Western Europe remind us of the boys and men who died to liberate this continent, ensuring that our parents’ generation could rebuild democracy. In 2001, when the US was hit by the horrific terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the European allies stood ready to fulfil their obligations to the transatlantic alliance after NATO’s Article 5 was invoked for the first time in history. To this day, European and American troops are stationed in Afghanistan under a NATO-led mission.

We have come a long way, and should not fall into the trap of viewing the situation since Trump’s election in oversimplified terms. We must forget that the transatlantic relationship with his predecessor, Barack Obama, was not always peachy: topics such as Guantanamo, the Iraq war, the Snowden revelations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership caused many heated exchanges.

As relations become more complex, it is ever more crucial that the EU grows up to become a more equal partner in the transatlantic relationship. The EU should be able to at least think about and subsequently forge its own destiny and provide a real balance to the US – not only in its own interest, but as a bridge to those Americans who do not subscribe to a neo-mercantilist ‘America First’ point of view. Achieving this requires political will.

The election of Trump may prove to be a silver lining in the sense that it is a wakeup call to the member states. The mere fact that this is needed is extremely regrettable. For too long, the EU has stood by as crises developed along our borders.
On a recent visit to Washington, it was remarkable for me to see how explicitly we were welcomed versus going straight into the agenda and discussing differences. It was clearer than ever that the transatlantic relation is understood and valued. We know that leadership is not restricted just to the White House and that there are still many issues on which European and American interests converge.

We cannot be complacent however, and must work with those who agree on the value of open economies and an open internet, from a position of strength. But while the Trump-watchers focus on White House staff changes and tweets, the rest of us would do well to keep a more open-minded and broader view.

Marietje Schaake is a Member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Democratic Party (D66) with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). She is also vice-chair of the Parliament’s delegation to the United States. She can be reached at marietje.schaake@europarl.europa.eu.

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