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Friday, January 11, 2019, 12:23
Will downgrade prompt EU to come out of US shadows?
By Chen Weihua
Friday, January 11, 2019, 12:23 By Chen Weihua

European Union officials and politicians have been outraged since learning the US State Department quietly downgraded the EU's status from a state to an international organization at least six weeks ago.

It all happened when EU Ambassador to the US David O'Sullivan, usually among the first 30 foreign envoys to be seated, watched as he was among the last to be called at the funeral of former US president George H.W. Bush in early December.

Brussels feels "big brother" has humiliated, even betrayed it. While some EU politicians are appealing Washington to resolve the issue, the current episode is just a bitter reminder that disagreements between the two transatlantic allies are many and growing fast.

The EU has opposed many major actions taken by the United States administration in the last two years. These include the US withdrawal from the landmark Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and its decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, as well as its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Just like the downgrade, the US administration did not even bother to notify the EU before announcing its plan of withdrawal from the INF Treaty, a treaty with Russia that is critical to European security.

The good news is that the EU has started to wake up to act independently rather than blindly following the US as it has done for decades. For instance, the EU did not bow to US pressure to quit the Iran nuclear deal

The EU strongly protested the US' unilateral and protectionist trade policies when the White House imposed punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports last year, including those from the EU, in the name of national security. As a US ally, the EU found it hard to understand how it could pose a threat to US national security.

At the World Trade Organization, the EU has joined China, India and some other countries to fight the US which has been blocking the appointments of judges to the WTO's court, known as the Appellate Body.

For leaders of the EU, which faces one of the biggest crises, US President Donald Trump's support for Brexit and his earlier remarks that the United Kingdom will be "better off" without the EU added fuel to the fire.

No wonder German Chancellor Angela Merkel said repeatedly last year that Europe cannot rely on the US to maintain the world order and protect Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron, too, is deeply upset with the US president. Shortly after Trump declared himself a nationalist, Macron said "nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism" at the World War I Armistice Centennial Commemoration in Paris in November with Trump among the audience.

Trump has indeed shown little regard for the EU. He has charged that the EU was established in order to take advantage of the US in trade. He has even said that "nobody treats us much worse than the EU".

A Pew Research Center survey shows that across Europe, the ratings for the US have been plummeting and anti-Americanism is on the rise. For example, only 14 percent of French people said they had confidence in Trump's international leadership.

The major disagreements between the EU and the US, however, go way back before Trump became US president. Europeans were overwhelmingly against the Iraq War launched by former US president George W. Bush. They also condemned the rampant US military drone strikes in South Asia and the Middle East under the Barack Obama administration.

The good news is that the EU has started to wake up to act independently rather than blindly following the US as it has done for decades. For instance, the EU did not bow to US pressure to quit the Iran nuclear deal. Instead, it has taken countermeasures to thwart the renewed US sanctions.

But the EU should do more in this regard, including rejecting the mounting US pressure in limiting high-tech cooperation with China, a huge win-win opportunity for China and the EU.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.


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