US and Europe


G-7 meeting 2017 PHOTO/Duck Duck Go/Hindustan Times

“It is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that country is to be marked out as the eternal ally or perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Lord Palmerston said this to the House of Commons in March 1848 but his words were misunderstood and misquoted.

However, interests do not speak by themselves; they are perceived. Europe’s perception of its ally America was affected by its policies on Iraq. President Donald Trump’s cry of ‘America First’ shook its complacency. Now, his decision to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran has shattered it. His abrupt calling off of the summit with Kim Jong-un will add to the distrust. The first retort came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year, when she said in French President Emmanuel Macron’s presence, “It’s no longer the case that the United States will simply just protect us. Rather, Europe needs to take its fate in its own hands. That’s the task for the future.”

Macron asked Europe to unite and assert European sovereignty in the face of unilateral moves by the US on Iran and climate change. He urged Europe to defend the multilateral global order to ensure Europe’s sovereignty. The two are linked. Such language had never been heard before though foreign ministers Hubert Védrine of France and Joschka Fischer of Germany came close to it.

Europe’s perceptions of its interests have changed.

Now we have French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire asking Europeans not to act as ‘vassals’ of the US. He wants European companies to continue trade with Iran despite Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions. Le Maire made a far-reaching proposal: set up a European body with the same powers as the US Justice Department to punish foreign companies for their trade practices. European and US companies will lose billions in commercial deals stuck since the accord with Iran in 2015 and also lose access to a major new export market.

The most meaningful words were said by the European Council president, Donald Tusk, this month: “The EU should be grateful to Donald Trump for his latest decisions … Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”

Things won’t be the same again; even if the differences are reconciled eventually. Despite those protests, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced, on May 21, the “strongest sanctions in history” against Iran. It is unlikely that Europe will back down. The consequences will be political and economic.

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