Trump's departure brings 'a sigh of relief across European capitals'
Michael Gray


The Trump presidency and its 'America First' agenda broke with traditional diplomatic convention and placed tremendous strain on relations with many long-term allies – perhaps none more so than the European Union.

According to Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament, Trump's four years in office "have been a very turbulent time, a time of rupture, a time of a certain loss of fundamental mutual respect and trust, a time of deep anxiety, of the successive abandonment of things that matter to Europeans." 

To many, Washington and Brussels were bywords of international cooperation and relative status quo, but the Trump presidency had other ideas.

One of the early flash points was over the NATO military alliance, with President Trump regularly chastising European members for not spending more money on defense – but Cox quickly reels off a much more comprehensive list of divergence. 

"The Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, effective multilateralism and trade through the World Trade Organization, respect for the work of the World Health Organization...." he says. "All of these things were part of Trump's turbulence and so I think people are breathing a sigh of relief across European capitals."




Trump's election in late 2016 came soon after the shock result of the Brexit referendum, in which the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

Unlike Trump, his successor Joe Biden has made no secret of his belief that Brexit was a mistake and the changing dynamic will present a new challenge for the British prime minister – and arch-Brexiteer – Boris Johnson.

"I doubt there are many people, apart perhaps from those who led the Brexit campaign in Britain, who greatly appreciated an American president [Trump] who lost no opportunity to praise Brexit and by implication, the disintegration of the European Union", says Cox.

"There were none in the European Union who appreciated being called by an American president and a fundamental European ally, as a foe and not as a friend," he adds.


Donald Trump shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the December 2019 NATO summit – but relations were not always cordial. /Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Donald Trump shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the December 2019 NATO summit – but relations were not always cordial. /Evan Vucci/AP Photo


Hours after taking office on Wednesday, President Biden signed 15 executive orders, many of which begin to unpick some of Trump's signature policies. Cox expects that trend to continue, if not at the same pace.

"What we expect with Biden is a return to something more normal," he says. "Not necessarily on every front in every policy [nor] a return to the Obama years, but a return to mutual respect, a return to the dignity of listening to others, a return to trying to build alliances."

The key question for many foreign policy analysts is: can a Biden administration replace the inward-looking mantra which Trump tried to instil in Washington and recover America's position as a leader on the international stage?

"I doubt that it can be fully recovered," reflects Cox, "but it certainly can be repaired and to some degree, restored."

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