Political analyst says Trump-Putin summit signals trying times for Europe

Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, photo: ČTK/AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Czech politicians have welcomed the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, with Prime Minister Babiš calling it a breakthrough in bilateral relations that will open dialogue on many burning issues. However political analysts predict that the new relationship may bring trying times for Europe. Commentator Daniel Anýž says the two leaders clearly have a common interest in a weak European Union.

Donald Trump,  Vladimir Putin,  photo: ČTK/AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko
“It is a bitter irony, but the two leaders clearly share this goal, albeit for different reasons. In the case of Vladimir Putin this is because of geo-political reasons. He sees the EU as a foe that tries to project its influence on republics in Russia’s close neighbourhood such as Ukraine, Georgia and other countries. And, as regards Donald Trump, it is all about trade. He really believes that the EU is a competitor or even “a foe” as he said several hours ahead of the summit. He has said it many times before and is quite persistent in that if there was no EU, if he could deal only with Germany, only with France – and he offered both of these countries a separate trade deal with the US – it would be a much better situation for the United States. Unfortunately this is a big danger for Transatlantic unity.”

What are the lessons to be learnt for the European Union from this?

“The lesson to be learnt is tough, because as the former German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said “we can't get along with Trump and we can't get along without the U.S.”. The best lesson – and it is a very tough one – is that the EU should try to stay as unified as possible. This will not be easy, because Trump is skilfully pushing in the weak places, weak points of the EU, such as the things he said in Britain about migration, that it is endangering Europe’s culture –this is what many right-wing movements that have been rising in Europe are gaining voters on. So it is a tricky and difficult situation for Europe, but I hope that at least on the trade front – which is the main front Trump is attacking – the EU will stay unified. So the message is “let us stay unified and survive Donald Trump”.

Could it not undermine the EU further?

“That is a danger, yes, but I see some optimism in that Europeans are learning how to deal with Donald Trump – that means focussing on what they can agree on and leaving aside issues like immigration. You can see that they are not even answering the Trump rhetoric so much. They are pushing hard on the trade front which is good and not provoking him that much on other fronts, because Donald Trump is of the nature that when you provoke him he strikes back. So I would say that the EU will need to tone down some of its criticism of Trump, such as the President of the European Council Donald Tusk saying “with a friend like Trump, who needs enemies.” Such an approach is useless, that is not the way how to deal with Trump. Basically, you have to be more skilful than him and play your cards to the best advantage. So I think that if the EU stays strong on the trade front – and the EU has the same share of the global economy as the US- then we can stand our ground.”

Daniel Anýž | Photo: Prokop Havel,  Czech Radio
How seriously should Europe take the rhetoric we heard – many analysts say that on both sides it was a performance for the domestic audience?

“They are right –it was for Trump’s home audience- on the other hand, those are his instincts, that is what he really believes. Since the 1980s, when he began to speak about international relations and US foreign policy, he has repeated the same things – the US is getting a bad deal and its allies are somehow using the US to their advantage. He is persistent in this and that is dangerous, because those are his instincts and if he were to follow them fully we would be in an even more difficult situation. Fortunately, as regards NATO, there is the US Congress and there are people in his administration who can still keep him in check.”