Daily briefing

Don't capitulate in Helsinki

Trump Helsinki 1800×1200
Brace, brace. Source: Imago

Save us the grandstanding, Mr. Trump, and show us something we can all agree is great.

Today, Europeans are watching fearfully as President Donald Trump meets Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. What dare we hope for? If Trump’s own expectations of this meeting are low, then ours are even lower.

Vexingly, Trump seems to see the summit as a meeting of friends. Yet the leaders’ agenda includes reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Putin’s continued support for Syria’s Assad. There’s also the election-meddling question since the indictment of 12 Russian diplomats over hacking. These are all way too important to be dropped in favor of a dangerous bromance.

Putin has nothing to lose from this meeting and everything to gain. Trump is in danger of legitimizing another dictator by rewarding him with his time but not his outrage.

So don’t take any wooden nickels, Donald. Demand answers on the 2016 elections; the sovereignty of your country is at stake. Push him on Syria and on Ukraine. Nudge him on human rights, as previous presidents from the United States have done – as Pussy Riot did in last night’s World Cup final. Millions will respect you for it around the world and Putin might, too.

Sadly, Trump seems to be focused on another “foe” instead, driving journalists to their dictionaries to figure out whether he meant “rival” or “enemy” when he used the word in reference to the European Union. The writing is on the wall, unwelcome as the message is: It’s the opposite of friendship. We’re accepting that slowly: In Germany, US lovers are preparing for life after Washington, in what they call the “darkest hours” of the relationship between the countries since the war. But even in the face of the tweets, the careless criticism and the praise for autocrats, dedicated trans-Atlanticists hold onto the hope that if they keep calm and carry on making sensible suggestions to Washington, the America they know and love will eventually come back.

Berlin, in the meantime, must do better. Jens Wiedmann, the country’s top central banker, told lawmakers on Friday that Germany might be growing but that winter is coming. Germany must be ready for the end of the boom, he warned, and Berlin should spend more to cushion the blow. Germans should fix their roof while the sun shines because the European Central Bank doesn’t have much more room for maneuver. Political risks are mushrooming from the impact of protectionism, ranging from the Trump administration to Brexit.

Trump’s comments on trade are likely to weigh on the European leaders heading to China. Premier Li Keqiang meets the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk for a two-day summit. The agenda spans climate change and security but trade is likely to top the list. The head of the delegation, Jo Leinen of the Social Democrats, called on China and the EU to become the anchors of stability in a new world order. But will Beijing allow European countries greater access to China? Today, I’m watching Finland but I’m betting on Beijing. Neither feels good.

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