The Trump – Juncker Meeting: Who Crossed the Red Line?

For those who understand politics across both sides of the Atlantic, the way in which the media in Bulgaria and in Europe broadly responded to the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and the President of the European Union Commission Jean-Claude Juncker last week, is similar to a popular anecdote of the recent past — Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Leonid Brezhnev running a foot race against one another. President Reagan, the more athletic of the two, outran Brezhnev. The socialist newspaper Pravda reported on the event as follows: “Leonid Brezhnev, our Central Committee General Secretary, won an honorable second place, while his competitor, the president of the United States, barely made it to second-to-last”.

Article titles such as “Trump Conceded to the EU” and “Juncker Won, There Will be No Trade War” are inflated reactions that most likely Juncker himself is not pleased with. The reality is that the conversation between the two leaders primarily centered on general issues, not concrete measures. The outcome was positive and set up a space for diplomats and experts from both sides of the Atlantic to develop and slowly implement the outcomes of the demonstrated political will.

Moreover, Trump has repeatedly shared his belief that lowering or reducing tariffs and eliminating subsidies is the way to conduct trade, and he has appealed to his European partners in Brussels, Paris, and Berlin to follow this path if they seek free trade. In this respect, the agreed decision to work towards eliminating tariffs and taxes for non-auto industrial goods and food products follows the lead of the American president. It is also an expression of a political line that has been followed by Washington for many years and has dominated the position of the United States since the beginning of the talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The EU, not the U.S., has had a problem finding internal consensus to ratify the agreement; and Juncker has been criticized in Brussels, for good reason, for crossing a red line in the trade talks with Trump.

Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, criticized Juncker for being the one who backed off and made concessions. Not only because he committed to importing significant quantities of American soybean and liquefied natural gas without receiving a firm promise from Trump to lower the steel tariffs – the initial problem that started the trade war – but also because the agreement with Trump goes against important principles of the EU, such as committing to comprehensive, not partial, trade deals and never negotiating trade agreements under pressure. Schaake believes that Juncker has set up a dangerous precedent.

After the event, Trump walked away with political gains. For him it was important to find markets for the growing production of natural gas in America and to compensate for the sanctions imposed by China on the soybean market, which negatively affects many of the states that voted for him.

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