On January 31, only three days before the informal meeting of the members of the European Council took place in Malta– twenty-seven presidents and prime ministers of the EU, without the presence of the United Kingdom – the Council´s President and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, addressed to them a stern letter underlining the challenges that Europe must face. He considers those challenges to be “the most dangerous ever since the signing of the Treaty of Rome”. He places them in three groups of threats: “the new geo-politic situation in the world and around Europe” – China, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, the new USA administration –; the “increase of an anti-EU, nationalist and more xenophobic sentiment within the EU”; and “the mood of the pro Europe elites”, chapter in which he makes a reference to “the decrease of trust in political integration, the acceptance of populist arguments, and the doubts about the fundamental values of liberal democracy”. It is a letter written with a visible degree of vehemence, whose reading – http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/home/ – may provide guidance to learn about the number of problems that hound the EU at present.
It is also a letter which, according to conventional wisdom, may not be considered particularly diplomatic, especially regarding the uncertainty surrounding the future of the relationship between Europe and the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump. The gathering in Malta, convened mainly to deal with the problem of migrants seeking refuge in Europe, did not formally deal with the questions that Tusk had addressed in his letter. Only a brief and cautious version offered by the President of the Council, in which he made a rather elliptical reference to the importance of the continuation of the transatlantic link, was the unofficial rendering of the discussion.
In their own individual press conferences, marked generally by prudence, the members of the Council reaffirmed in different degrees of conviction their pro European beliefs, while avoiding terms that could have been considered as confrontational by the Trump administration. It was not difficult to conclude that president Tusk had been unauthorized or at least reprimanded because of the forcefulness of his statement. But significant differences were to be found among the Council’s members views on the matter. It was enough for some to conclude that Europe was again divided in a “two speed” configuration, according to the different reactions, from uncertainty to rejection, which Trump provokes among the European partners. Though it is hard to imagine how there might be one among them who could share what the American President had to say to the British Prime Minister as recently as January 27th: “The Brexit will be a wonder for your country, you will have your own identity, you will have the people you want in your country, and you will be able to make trade agreements without anyone controlling you”. He is not a prodigy of linguistic richness in English or in any other language, but no one can deny clarity in his designs.
Malta was the first occasion in which the top EU´s officials met to express their opinions about the situation created in the mutual relations by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United Stated. Being an informal meeting whose agenda´s focus was elsewhere, a joint declaration or a statement encompassing at least the average of the feelings of community were not expected. But somewhere in between Tusk’s letter and the officials´ statements to the media, something can be at least temporarily inferred: facing the showman that occupies the White House today, Europe is dithering between resistance and appeasement. Most likely, Trump will need more of the first than of the latter. The Poles, community to which Tusk belongs, and neighboring countries could say much an not very good about experiences of appeasement. The Council´s President is quite right in his final invocation: “United we stand, divided we fall”. It is a fitting motto for times of trouble.