Herman Van Rompuy: EU should continue on path of autonomy

The former Council President made the remark at the EPC annual conference, and predicted that geo-politics will “change dramatically” following the election of Joe Biden in the U.S.
Source: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

20 Nov 2020

Speaking in Brussels, Van Rompuy also rubbished those who claim that so-called “Trumpism” will remain, despite the defeat of Donald Trump in the recent elections.

Van Rompuy, in a keynote speech to the annual conference of the European Policy Centre, said, “Four more years of pointless and dangerous adventures, such as the trade wars and the leaving of the Paris Climate Agreement, have been avoided.”

Despite Donald Trump’s current reluctance to accept the result and the unique nature of voting in the middle of a pandemic, the presidential election eventually delivered Joe Biden and Kamala Harris with a clear victory, the event heard.

When the pair enter the White House on 20 January 2021, they will, it was said, inherit the tasks of bringing the sprawling pandemic under control, taking immediate action on the climate crisis, addressing deep racial inequalities and repairing American institutions at home and abroad after the Trump years.

The new leadership will be charged also with trying to heal the bitter political and cultural divisions running daily life and discourse in the U.S, it was said.

"Of course, there are differences of opinion between the US and the EU. They have always been and will always be there. But there will be a framework and an openness to talk about them in a normal way"

Van Rompuy, Council President from 2009 to 2014, added, “Those elections are a geopolitical change. I read now and then that under Biden the US will continue to fold back on itself, that America has changed forever since Trump, and so on. Even after the election of Biden we would still live in a ‘Trumpism’ world without a Trump. What a superficial analysis.”

He told the online conference that transatlantic relations, multilateral institutions such as the WTO, UNESCO and WHO, plus the G7 and the attitude of the US towards Russia will “change dramatically.”

“Dialogue instead of confrontation, values instead of money and weapons. Facts instead of ideology and lies,” he told the event.

The comments from the normally retiring Van Rompuy are unusually critical from a senior EU figure. Most EU politicians have issued relatively bland statements congratulating Biden on his electoral success, but noticeably stopping well short of criticising Donald Trump.

Breaking rank from such diplomatic niceties, Van Rompuy, now president of the EPC, said, “Of course, there are differences of opinion between the US and the EU. They have always been and will always be there. But there will be a framework and an openness to talk about them in a normal way.”

“The EU can also work together again with the US to adopt a common attitude towards third countries, not in the role of junior partner or without falling into the trap of ‘suivisme’ as the EU has too often done in the past. Unilateralism has not brought any problem closer to a solution.”

The conference was told that the COVID-19 pandemic has "shaken Europe to its core" and the EU and its members find themselves in the middle of the biggest economic and social crisis since World War II and the biggest health crisis for over a century.

He urged the EU to “continue along a path of autonomy”, saying, “That does not stand in the way of dialogue with our transatlantic partners. It has been said many times, but if the EU wants to be geopolitically relevant, the first condition is its unity of action as in the Brexit negotiations or in the trade conflict with the US.”

“Remember the successful negotiation between Juncker and Trump in the summer of 2018. With regard to recent problems in the Mediterranean, I have seen too little of such unanimity, with all the consequences this has for the effectiveness of our role.”

"We linked the Recovery Fund to the long-term objectives of ecological and digital transformation. This fact and the American elections are lights in this ‘annus horribilis’. Let us cherish them and continue to turn fear into hope"

The former Belgian PM also turned to current issues facing the EU including the dispute over the EU budget, the MMF, which will be discussed at an EU summit on Thursday.

He said, “I do not suffer from euro-neurosis. We, in the Union, have become accustomed to a rapid succession of crises since the outbreak of the 'multiple crisis' in 2008. Each time, the EU has managed to overcome them. On 21 July, we were able to agree on a major operation of solidarity. We have avoided falling into the ills of the past. Solidarity became more important than a variant of 'I want my money back'.”

“We linked the Recovery Fund to the long-term objectives of ecological and digital transformation. This fact and the American elections are lights in this ‘annus horribilis’. Let us cherish them and continue to turn fear into hope.”

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