Trans-Atlantic Ties

Pence Tries to Smooth Things Over in Europe

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and European Council President Donald Tusk hold a joint news conference in Brussels, Belgium
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence came to Europe to play nice. Source: Reuters

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence came to Europe with an olive branch in tow. During his first official visit to Brussels to Monday, exactly a month since assuming office, he warranted the Trump administration’s “continued cooperation and partnership” with the 28-member European Union.

“Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and above all, the same purpose to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” he said during a news conference with European Council President Donald Tusk.

E.U. officials told Handelsblatt that his comments were an important message for Europe. Officials told news agency Reuters the meeting with Mr. Pence went smoothly, with one even quoted as saying, “We got everything we were looking for.”

It’s an encouraging sign for European institutions about what’s to come over the next four years. Many were worried after Mr. Pence’s speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, the first major foreign policy address for Trump’s administration, spoke of the importance of ties to Europe but notably did not mention the E.U. at all. That, coupled with Mr. Trump’s open support of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and prediction that other countries will leave, had many Brussels diplomats worried.

Trans-Atlantic relations are nowhere close to being rock-solid yet. Mr. Tusk tread cautiously when talking to reporters post-meeting. “In reply to these three matters, I heard today from Vice President Pence three times ‘yes,’” he said, referring to what he said were the key issues of international order, security and the U.S.’ position on the E.U. “After such a positive declaration, both Europeans and Americans must simply practice what they preach.”

Indeed, E.U. leaders will be watching closely how Mr. Trump’s words and actions match up over the next few months. In January, he criticized the E.U. as just “a vehicle for Germany” and predicted others countries would follow Brexit’s example. The German and French governments were particularly riled by Mr. Trump’s travel ban on citizens of several Muslim-majority countries, which caused widespread confusion about the fate of dual nationals.

Mr. Pence also met with E.U. foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker as well as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday. Mr. Juncker in particular focused on the important economic linkages between the two continents. The U.S. is more dependent on trade with Europe “than some people think,” he reportedly told the vice president.

The next official trans-Atlantic summit is expected to be in late May, when Mr. Trump is himself slated to meet several E.U. leaders at the G7 summit in Italy. There is much speculation about how the newly-anointed politician will fare compared to Mr. Pence, a former state governor, with long sessions of policy discussion and bilateral talks.


Barbara Woolsey is an editor for Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author:

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