Now he threatens again. His government will take tariffs on European automobiles seriously, said Donald Trump last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Unless the EU offers him a deal, a trade deal – as he recently did with China and Mexico. Then a solution would be found.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen should not grant the American President this triumph. Because a trade agreement as Trump envisions is not in the European interest.
As a reminder: Trump had already threatened car tariffs. Then von der Leyens was its predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker Traveled to Washington and offered talks to Trump – which was enough of a concession for the American president to suspend the planned tariffs. After all, Trump was just involved in a trade dispute with the Chinese and did not want to open a second front.
The ceasefire with the Chinese has brought some calm to the West, viewed from America. That's why Trump's eyes are now turned to the east, i.e. to Europe. His goal is clear: before the presidential election in November, he wants to sign a trade agreement or at least a letter of intent that allows him to claim that he has defeated the stubborn Europeans.
With Trump, power takes the place of law
From a European perspective, this is problematic in several respects. With his bilateral agreements, Trump is undermining the multilateral trading system, the preservation of which the Europeans are committed to. This is no coincidence, but its stated aim: the American president does not believe that international relations should be made legal, because in his view they restrict national sovereignty. Instead, he strives for a world order in which power takes the place of law. It fits that the car tariffs are based on national security arguments – a clear break with international trade rules.
A commercial contract with the Americans would also be wrong at the current level. There's no question about it: it is generally a good thing for states to dismantle tariff barriers. But only if it does not lead to watering down social and ecological achievements. This has also been recognized by the European Commission, which has recently anchored environmental standards in its trade agreements.
Trump is not expected to get involved in something like this. For example: France insists that only countries that comply with the Paris Climate Agreement qualify for a trade agreement. Trump certainly won't do that, after all, he just quit. The American president's main concern is to open up new sales markets for American agricultural groups. But that would be a major setback given the planned ecological restructuring of the European agricultural sector.
A trade deal would be Trump's campaign aid
And finally, everything speaks against a deal geostrategically. Such an agreement would be a campaign aid for the American president – especially if he asserts himself on the points that are important to him. A second term for Donald Trump would be a disaster from a European perspective. The signals off Washington are clear: Trump wants to divide Europe so that it can more easily assert its own power interests. Supporting him would be like geopolitical suicide.
The question remains what Trump can do if he doesn't get his deal. If he imposes tariffs, that would be a hard blow, especially for the export-dependent German economy. But will he risk launching a trade war a few months before the election that would push stock prices down and play into his opponents' hands? The likelihood is likely to be low, especially since German corporations have large plants in states that are important to the Republicans, such as South Carolina. The prerequisite, however, is that the EU knows how to defend itself: it must make it clear that every escalation on the American side is answered with appropriate countermeasures on the European side. That would push the price of a trade dispute up for Trump.
Donald Trump is looking for confrontation, blackmail is a political tool for him. Don't let that intimidate you.