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As President Trump is visiting Europe, leaving a trail of political destruction, burnt bridges and perplexed Europeans, I am on my way to Washington DC with a delegation of the European Parliament for a transatlantic dialogue.
Transatlantic relations are deep and resilient, but it is clear that the nature of the bond between Europe and the US is changing rapidly and profoundly. The change set in well before the Trump presidency, but as Trump is dismantling the half century old system of multilateralism, international law and traditional alliances, we can no longer deny that the world order is changing at breathtaking speed.
Europe, grateful and indebted for the support of the Americans during the darkest moments of our continent, accepted and expected the United States to assume world leadership, and protect us and represent our interests at the same time.
But it is clear that world no longer exists. As the world order changes, Europe has to adapt to the new reality. The best response to Trump’s “America first” is a strong and self-confident European Union that speaks with a single voice and puts the interest of its own citizens first.
In today’s world Europe has to sail its own course, determine its own strategy. Trying to react to every unpredictable whim of Donald Trump is mission impossible, and distracting us from pursuing our own goals. Huffing and puffing in indignation over his irrational behaviour is a waste of time. The world will not go back to normal. This IS the new normal.
We should not expect the US under Trump to defend our values and our way of life. We have to do that ourselves, and stand on our own two feet.
This week the European Parliament delegation has a dense programme of meetings on security and data protection issues. In the last two decades or so, transatlantic policies have been rather unilaterally defined by the US. Europe tends to be timid and submissive when negotiating data sharing arrangements with the United States. Many of those arrangements are not in line with European laws and standards. For example Safe Harbour and its successor Privacy Shield, the transfer of passenger and bank data (PNR and SWIFT), or the US overreach with the US CLOUD act and FATCA, allowing the US to directly access personal data stored in Europe. Many of those agreements rely not on legal acts, but on mere administrative commitments of the US, such as “Presidential Policy Directives”. If those commitments were already too weak under President Obama, under President Trump they are not worth a whole lot.
Europe has just adopted the GDPR, the best data privacy law in the world. We can be proud of that. We have to defend and uphold those standards in all transatlantic agreements, and indeed agreements with other parts of the world.
A united Europe can be assertive and self-confident on the world stage, and stand up for the interests of our European citizens in today’s world.