In an article, carried by the newspaper Handelsblatt, a group of German MPs from the Social Democratic party describe the possible new US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project as a “threat to European sovereignty.” Earlier, Bloomberg reported that the German authorities are mulling retaliatory sanctions against the United States if Washington continues to dial up pressure on the participants in the project to bring Russian natural gas to consumers in Europe. Moreover, Berlin is reportedly willing to add a pan-European dimension to its possible pushback against Washington. Meanwhile, the US has withdrawn from OECD-held talks on digital tax. France, one of the main proponents of increased income taxation of US IT companies operating in Europe, slams Washington’s actions as “provocative,” and is all set to continue applying the digital tax. Many observers warn that worsening transatlantic trade relations could lead to a new trade war.
On the outside, the United States remains the EU’s main trading partner, with European exports to the US last year amounting to 384 billion euros. The United States is also the second-biggest provider of goods and services to Europe, after China. However, by the close of 2019, most EU countries were already balancing between stagnation and recession – not least due to Washington’s economic policies, as the Trump administration kept threatening to slap additional duties on European exports. In addition, Europeans feel the pinch of declining world trade caused by Washington’s trade war with Beijing.
Donald Trump won the presidency on the strength of his promise to maintain America’s leading position in the world, which he sees as the scene of tooth-and-claw competition between states. From this standpoint, all countries not ready to accept Washington’s terms, especially those pursuing an independent policy, are viewed as a “legitimate” target for pressure, primarily an economic one. Since 2018, Washington has been ramping up sanctions and trade restrictions against many leading world powers, including in Europe and, hating as the Europeans are to avoid politicization of their trade relations with the US, almost each new trade dispute demonstrates geopolitical undertones that are hard to ignore.
For example, Washington regularly threatens to impose a 25 percent tax on imported European cars and spare parts, above all German. Amid Washington’s isolationist policy, Germany is now seen by many Europeans as a potential new leader of the Western community and apparently the primary target of Donald Trump’s attacks against Europeans. Indeed, it was Angela Merkel who, after the first NATO summit attended by Trump, said that Europe can no longer rely on America. Since then, Berlin has been increasingly vocal in pointing, more than anyone else in the EU, at cardinal changes in Washington’s interests in the Old World, above all its desire to undermine Europe’s global competitiveness. On July 1, Germany took over the EU Council’s rotating chair for the next six months, which is likely to further intensify these disagreements.
In October 2019, the United States imposed tariffs on a number of imported European goods, formally justifying this by a WTO ruling that the European Union had not complied with an order to end illegal subsidies for its plane-maker Airbus.
The Americans and Europeans have long been at loggerheads over who violates the WTO rules by providing state assistance to their aviation industry. However, now that Washington is trying hard to limit the supply of high-tech products to the “wrong” countries, transatlantic bickering over subsidized airplane exports is becoming extremely important in terms of foreign policy. And in light of the colossal damage, the global aviation industry may suffer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this could put the entire technological future of the European Union on the line.
A similar situation has been developing also around the idea, actively promoted by the EU leadership and a number of EU countries, to impose the so-called “digital tax” on services provided to European consumers by major US technology companies, above all Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Meanwhile, in the United States, the geostrategic motives behind the European initiatives are becoming clear not only to observers but to the White House as well.
According to numerous forecasts, in the post-coronavirus world, almost all countries will focus on internal problems, on increasing their economic self-sufficiency and even autonomy. The world may become “poorer and more cost-effective,” and the process of globalization will, at best, come to a halt and stay so for several years. Right now, faced with multiple crises, Europe, may be tempted to take its time and wait, at least until after the November presidential elections in the US. By then, the scope of the economic damage from the pandemic will become clearer. What is obvious, however, is that only by resolutely standing up to America, especially if this resistance ultimately results in a “deal” more beneficial to Europeans, will the EU be able to restore its geopolitical weight in international affairs.
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