RELATIONS between US and Europe are heading for another chilly path. The chill started when Trump
imposed tariffs on European steel and aluminium products two years ago. The bitterness never settled down but in fact has been escalating. Germany last week accused the United States of interfering in its internal affairs in an increasingly angry spat over Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on companies involved with a major project to supply Western Europe with Russian gas. Moscow and the European Union also issued statements criticizing the sanctions a day after President Donald Trump signed on asset freezing and visa restrictions on those involved in the Nord Stream 2 project.
US lawmakers are seeking to stymie what they regard as an increasing reliance on Russian energy in Western Europe by targeting the project, which aims to double the amount of Russian natural gas reaching Germany via a pipeline under the Baltic Sea. The sanctions target contractors working to lay pipes for Nord Stream 2- a 10 billion-euro ($11-billion) project expected to be completed in early 2020…and another Russian gas project, TurkStream. So far full details of the sanctions have not yet been released and US officials have 60 days to disclose the names of the companies and individuals concerned. In the first sign that the sanctions are beginning to bite, Swiss contractor – “Allseas”, executing the project, suspended its Nord Stream 2 activities while it awaited clarification from the US authorities. However, Nord Stream 2 spokesman said, in reaction to the statement from Allseas, that it would continue to work until the pipeline was finished. Although US Congress overwhelmingly backed the sanctions, there was criticism from some lawmakers of a move that in effect punishes Nato allies such as Germany. The move brought angry reactions from Berlin, Moscow and Brussels. An EU spokesman said the Bloc was opposed “as a matter of principle to the imposition of sanctions against European companies engaged in legal activities. The German government reacted most forcefully with Chancellor Angle Merkel’s spokesperson, Ulrike Demmer saying Berlin rejected “these sorts of extra territorial sanctions .They will hit German and European companies and constitute interference in our internal affairs”. Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister, Olaf Scholz said the sanctions were an infringement of sovereignty. However, he said, “There would not be a tit-for-tat reaction. It is up to the companies involved in the construction of the pipeline to take the next decision.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova accused the United States of pushing an ideology that hindered global trade, adding on her Facebook page: “Soon they will demand that we stop breathing”. But the United States is not the only nation to question the project-Ukraine, Poland and some Baltic nations have also expressed doubts.
“Despite the involvement in the Nord Stream 2 project of companies from some EU countries, this pipeline has never been a European or EU project” said Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski. “Instead, it remains an instrument for the realization of Russian economic and potentially, military policy”. Ukraine worries that the new pipeline would cut it out of the gas supply business and allow Russia to ratchet up pressure. The US-German ties are an important link in its European relations. But during the first year under Trump, Washington-Berlin ties have been changing from a state of democratic alliance to one of fierce rivalry, which is actually a new normal in the Western camp. A slew of Trump’s foreign policies, including his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, stress on trade protection and opposition to globalization, have gradually coalesced into an important force of the unfolding trend of anti-globalization. For many European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump’s policies and ideas lack political correctness, which are just unacceptable. In addition, the two heads of state failed to reach consensus on trade, security and rule-making cooperation several times which signals an impending breakup between Washington and Berlin as well as a wider Europe. Merkel and Macron aim at supporting a multilateral framework, deepening global and bilateral cooperation and projecting Europe’s role in global governance. If they can successfully spread their ideas and methods of governance, Trump’s influence will further weaken and is likely to put pressure on the US leader to change his policies. However, it seems the American President will not change his concepts and policies, which will further sour relations between the US and Europe and weaken the West-led international order. The US is flowing against the tide of globalization by advocating protectionism to seek its own profits and that will leave itself less room for development.
Recently the US government has been threatening to increase tariffs on imported goods, as an act of trade protectionisms and imposing its unreasonable will on other countries. US President Donald Trump holds that though his country is the world’s largest economy yet is a “victim of free trade” and has been treated unfairly in the global trade system. US has inappropriately adopted trade protectionism as the only way to solve trade frictions but this move is supported by nobody, even its own allies. At the last meeting of the WTO Council for Trade, the EU, Japan, South Korea and Australia warned that the trade barriers set up by the US will threaten the rules based on multilateral trade system. British International Trade Secretary, Lian Fox told the BBC, “The UK is a firm supporter of the WTO and his country will abide by international trade rules. Obviously the “national security” excuse raised by US, is invalid. The purpose of the US is to nakedly protect its industry through increasing tariffs, which is sabotaging the rules for fair trade”. All these clear responses are undoubtedly a strong blow to the US. Without rules, there will be no order. As one of the major makers of international trade rules, the US has become an obvious breaker of them judging from what it is doing, presently. “International trade should be established upon rules not strength or power, said former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, pointing out that the rules based multilateral trade system might need some adjustments, but prerequisite is to first consolidate it.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.