Will Europe Make Its Own ‘Turn to the East’?

The EU-US clashes on trade policy are forcing Europe to seek new strategic partners. Europe has eyed Asia, but success on this trajectory is not guaranteed, according to the Valdai Club expert Alexander Rahr. In his view, it would be logical for Europe to build a partnership with the Eurasian Economic Union, but it will not do this for political and ideological reasons.

The first personal meeting between US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took place at the White House on Friday. Despite both politicians’ positive assessment of the talks, they showed differences between the two countries on issues of trade and NATO funding. At the same time, the meeting between Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which took place on Monday in Hannover, showed that there is a mutual understanding between Germany and Japan despite the failure of TPP and TTIP, and that the two countries aim to sign a free trade agreement as soon as possible. Alexander Rahr, Research Director at the German-Russian Forum, told valdaiclub.com about the significance of these meetings.

In an era of global uncertainty, as demonstrated by the politics of Donald Trump, Germany is taking on the role of the defender of the old Western world’s values, according to Rahr.

“Mrs. Merkel, as the leader of Germany and Germany as the leader of Europe stand at the head of this process. The trip to meet Trump had one goal, to pressure and convince Trump to not change the world order, not change rules of world trade, continue to bow before the idea of globalization,” Rahr said.

According to Rahr, not only the European Union, but also a significant part of the American establishment, which puts a lot of hope in Merkel, seeks to make Trump return into the mainstream. At the same time, these attempts irritate Trump, Rahr said.

“The meeting between Trump and Merkel did not bring about anything, both sides kept to their original positions, and Trump is very displeased that he, the US President, is being forced into a role of a loser schoolboy, who is constantly lectured on the basics of democracy,” Rahr added.

While the US moves toward protectionism, Europe, which needs markets to sell its goods, is forced to seek new strategic partners, Rahr said.

“Europe does not want to stay within the bounds of its own market, it turned out to be rather small and weak. No one knows what will happen to the euro, Greece is again on the brink of default, the UK is leaving the EU, production numbers in individual EU countries are very mediocre,” Rahr said.

In this situation, Merkel may have to step over her own principles, stop looking at world trade within the constraints of liberal values and reorient itself to Asia, according to Rahr. However, there is no guarantee that Germany and Europe as a whole will be successful there.

“She thinks that things will work out with Asia, that Asia has something to offer Europe. It’s possible to imagine that the EU will enter the Asia-Pacific region and try to play the role that is currently still being played by the US. It will probably not work out, first of all because there, the EU will collide with China. It’s an open question, whether China would agree to give up its ripening leadership in Asia-Pacific when the US is disengaging from it,” Rahr added.

According to Rahr, the most natural solution for Germany would be to build cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union, but it is unlikely to do this.

“It would be logical, but Europe continues to refuse to talk to the EAEU for ideological, political, but in no way economic reasons. Despite this, of all the options that Europe currently has, economic cooperation with Russia and EAEU countries would be the most comfortable and most valuable for the EU, but the question of values plays a key role here. Merkel, as the leader of Europe, refuses and does not do anything to move forward this idea,” Rahr concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.