Trans-Atlantic relations tested in Trump’s first month
Brussels — After President Donald Trump’s raucous first month in office, Europeans have reacted with demonstrations, counter-barbs and sheer angst that a century of trans-Atlantic friendship may be sinking.
“Too much has happened,” European Union leader Donald Tusk said Monday, “for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be.”
The governments of some traditional allies have gone a step further, uniting with fundraising plans and a special conference to balance the new U.S. administration’s reverse tack from Barack Obama’s presidency on abortion policies.
Beyond Trump’s orders on immigration, few of the administration’s policies have unsettled many European nations as much as his ban on funding for international groups that perform abortions or provide information about abortions to women in developing nations.
Belgian Vice Premier Alexander De Croo was so shocked that words were not enough. He said European nations, fearful that thousands of women and girls will die without family planning information, already are cooperating to make up as much of funding gap as possible.
“What we are doing is rolling up our sleeves and saying instead of complaining we are going to take action,” De Croo said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Ten EU nations wrote to the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, telling her that Europe cannot let down women in developing nations whatever the U.S. policy.
“Collectively we have a responsibility not to allow this to happen,” the nations said in a common call against Trump’s order, which massively expanded previous Republican bans on providing federal money to international family planning groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information.
Even if European nations were alarmed when past Republican administrations restricted international funding over abortion, the reaction against the Trump order was much more vociferous.
Within five days of Trump’s action, Dutch Foreign Development Cooperation Minister Lilianne Ploumen said she received thousands of messages from over 150 countries, with many seeking information how to donate funds.
Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands already have committed 10 million euros ($10.5 million) each and will host an international pledging conference March 2 to help cover the financial hole Trump left.
The Swedes showed their scorn toward Trump in a different way.
Trump signed the anti-abortion order two days after taking office as seven men looked on in the Oval Office. Soon after, Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin posted on Facebook a photo that showed her signing a government document, surrounded by an all-woman cast. Lovin said she left it “to the observer to interpret the photo.”
From the quirky to the fundamental, covering anything from abortion to trade, defense and relations with Russia, the doubts about Trump made it a tall order for U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during Monday’s talks with Mogherini and other EU leaders on Monday.
Pence said that Trump sent him to Europe “to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union.”
The Europeans will take some convincing.
With intimidating language and caustic one-liners, Trump has called NATO, the old military bond between Europe and North America, “obsolete,” described Britain’s decision to leave the EU “a tremendous asset” and suggested the EU itself could soon well disintegrate.
Pence sought to assuage European allies who are constantly wondering what Trump’s next quip or Twitter bomb will bring.
“Too many new, and sometimes surprising, opinions have been voiced,” Tusk told reporters, with Pence standing by his side.
On Saturday, Trump alluded to past terror attacks in the EU and said: “Look what’s happening last night in Sweden.” The president’s comment left Swedes confused since nothing remotely linked to extremist action had troubled the country on Friday night.
“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted.
Trump said in tweet on Sunday: “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”
In Munich last week, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker described the United States in terms of “our American friends, if they should and want to remain our friends.” And Tusk had put the United States in a “threat” category two weeks ago, insisting that Trump is contributing to the “highly unpredictable” outlook.
Pence sought to build bridges on Monday, not walls.
“Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and above all the same purpose,” Pence said.