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In Brussels, Trump and the Europeans Make Nice, Sort Of

In Brussels, Trump and the Europeans Make Nice, Sort Of

On the first stop of his foreign trip, in Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump was greeted by horses and military planes. On the second, in Israel, he was lauded by his “friend,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On the third, at the Vatican, he had the “honor of a lifetime” meeting Pope Francis.

It wasn’t until his fourth stop, in Belgium — specifically, in Brussels, which Trump had called a “hellhole” during his campaign” — that thousands gathered to protest his arrival.

Trump was in Brussels for his first NATO meeting — hotly anticipated by other NATO members, given the U.S. president’s threats to withdraw from the alliance if other members did not increase their defense spending to meet the recommended 2 percent of GDP. First, though, he met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President (and former Prime Minister of Poland) Donald Tusk, and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Each of the three had previously spoken out against Trump, who celebrated Brexit, cheered Marine Le Pen’s plans to weaken Europe, and seemed to question why a strong and united Europe would ever be in U.S. interests. Juncker called Trump’s praise of Brexit “annoying” in March. Tusk implied that Trump is a threat to the European Union back in January. And Macron, during his presidential campaign, made a video inviting American scientists to relocate to France, where leadership is committed to cutting-edge things like science, and reality.

But now the three need to find common ground with Trump, whose support is critical for the continuation of the U.S.-Europe partnership, which is not much less needed now than it was in the years after World War II.

It wasn’t a train wreck, though some uncomfortable differences showed up clearly.  

As for Russia, the topic at the forefront of the minds of many (though not on the official NATO agenda) Tusk said, “I’m not 100 percent sure we can say that we have a common position, a common opinion on Russia, although when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine we were on the same line.”

In the past, even the recent past, many European countries — who are closer to and who trade more with Moscow — have been reluctant to be too confrontational with Russia. Now, that seems to be reversed: Europeans are deeply worried about Russia’s organized attempts to sow divisions in Europe and weaken the EU, while Trump cheers that very dissolution.

On the other hand, certain topics, like counterterrorism, went down smoothly; others, like climate and trade, were less settled. (Though Trump apparently has discovered at least one downside to Brexit, which he has come to believe could put U.S. jobs at risk). Further, Tusk stressed the shared values at the core of the U.S.-EU relationship, though Trump’s administration has been clear that it is less interested in principle than pragmatism.

Trump then went into a working lunch with Macron, who was expected to stress the importance of continued U.S. support for the Paris agreement on climate change; U.S. participation in the accord is under increasing fire at home. 

Trump, who all but endorsed Macron’s rival Le Pen during the campaign, said, “It is my great honor to be with the newly elected president of France, who ran an incredible campaign and had a tremendous victory. All over the world they’re talking about it. And we have a lot to discuss, including terrorism and other things. Congratulations. Great job.”

If nothing else, the two share respect for a firm handshake: The pool reporter described the prolonged grip as “white knuckles” and clenched jaws.

Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images