Report urges US to repair EU ties, calls Brussels ‘nascent power’

Washington needs a “new special relationship” with Brussels and the EU — as part of an urgent effort to repair damage caused by Donald Trump, but also because France, Germany and the U.K. “lack the international clout they once had,” according to a new report by the Center for an American Progress, a left-leaning U.S. think tank.

While the report savages Trump for taking a wrecking-ball to transatlantic relations, it also calls for the U.S. to embrace Brussels and the EU as the political center of gravity in Europe, in a way that no modern American president, Republican or Democrat, has ever done. But it also offers sober warnings about the EU’s own weaknesses.

“The United States needs a new progressive approach to revive and rebuild the trans-Atlantic alliance,” the report states. “Fully embracing the European Union and supporting European integration efforts that bolster the strength and resilience of Europe’s union should be core to a new American approach.”

The report continues, “A strong united Europe working in tandem with an America once again committed to its founding principles would create a robust liberal bulwark against the rising tide of authoritarianism.”

But, it adds, “While Europe can rise, it can also fall. The European Union faces acute internal and external challenges, which threaten its stability.”

The report, called “Embrace the Union,” is significant because it has the potential of serving as a blueprint for any new Democratic administration in Washington.

The Center for American Progress was founded by John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, as a senior counselor to President Barack Obama, and as chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Podesta still serves on the think tank’s board of directors, and the group’s research fellows are prominent voices in virtually every sector of the left-leaning political and policymaking establishment.

But while the report’s author, Max Bergmann, offers a scathing critique of Trump, his assessment of European powers is not particularly optimistic either. It describes the U.K. as inward-focused and facing diminished relevance as a result of Brexit; Germany as refusing to accept a leadership role on the world stage; and France as having grand ambitions that are limited by its “sclerotic economy.”

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“In sum, the United Kingdom is no longer punching above its weight but is losing weight, France is trying to punch above its weight, and Germany doesn’t know how to punch,” the report states. “Other European states are focused on punching one other in Brussels.”

While the report was prepared independently for CAP, Bergmann is advising Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign in a personal capacity.

Britain bashed

Britain comes in for particularly harsh criticism in the report as a result of its effort to quit the EU.

“The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU will significantly reduce its diplomatic relevance to the United States,” the report states, adding: “The inevitable all-consuming focus on Brexit and its fallout will make the United Kingdom increasingly distracted from other world events.” The report describes London as “enamored” with China’s market, and “reticent to deal aggressively and comprehensively with Russian malign influence.”

While the report chides Germany for refusing to take on more of a leadership role, despite having the clear capacity to do so, it praises French President Emmanuel Macron’s global ambitions, noting that France has already surpassed the U.K. to become America’s most important military ally in Europe.

The report makes some predictable recommendations for reversing Trump’s decisions that have caused the worst strains with Europe, including rejoining the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords, ending the trade war with Europe, and recommitting the U.S. to arms control and international nonproliferation conventions.

But it also warns that the damage caused by Trump will not be easy to repair, and some of it may be irreversible.

“While the Washington foreign policy community has expressed shock and horror at Trump’s hostile approach to European allies, the United States will not simply be able to hit a reset button after Trump,” the report states.

To help repair the damage, the report offers four key proposals: Hold a U.S.-EU summit with the goal of announcing a new special relationship; hold a White House state dinner for the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council; make Brussels the next president’s first stop in Europe and give an address in the European Parliament; and direct U.S. embassies abroad to prioritize partnerships with EU delegations.

But while Brussels almost always seems keen to hold a summit (except perhaps on the subject of Brexit), EU leaders may not react as well to the tone of the report, which seems to embrace American exceptionalism, even as it describes the U.S. as diminished under Trump.

The report also advocates a parental approach toward the EU, as if it were now Washington’s duty to help Brussels grow up. And it levels criticism that, while fact-based, may not be what Bucharest or Budapest, let alone Paris or Berlin, want to hear from a Washington that is consumed by its own chaos these days and has become a source of global instability.

“The United States should view the European Union as a nascent rising power and should adopt a patient and concerted strategy to encourage its rise,” the report states, adding, “The European Union remains stuck in an institutional purgatory. It has tremendous potential power but is unable to exercise it on the world’s stage.”

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