THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
The questions hanging over the E.U.-U.S. relationship are made all the more daunting
by Europe’s own difficulties—economic stagnation and a demographic crisis.
Giles Merritt reported for the
foreign correspondent for 15 years, five of them from
Brussels, and subsequently was an
op-ed columnist on European Union affairs for
20 years. He is the founder and chairman of the Friends of Europe
think tank based in Brussels and the author of
Slippery Slope: Eu-
rope’s Troubled Future
(Oxford University Press, 2016).
here’s a sense of
air this year. Changeover time at the
U.S. mission to the European Union
has stoked uncertainty over the
future direction of the trans-Atlantic
And that’s not all. A succession
of surprise political shifts in Europe
has prompted American analysts to
rethink once-immutable policy positions.
Not far from Belgium’s royal palace in central Brussels, Tony
Gardner bade farewell to the team he headed for three years as
America’s ambassador to the European Union. It was an emo-
tional moment, made all the more poignant by the stark bare-
ness of his office walls, where the familiar pictures and memo-
rabilia have been replaced by faded patches and metal hooks.
A few miles away on the city’s outskirts, Truman Hall, the
imposing residence of U.S. ambassadors to NATO, also stands
ON U.S. – EUROPE RELATIONS
empty. The moving vans have long since taken away the per-
sonal effects of Doug Lute, the knowledgeable former army
general who since 2013 had represented the United States on
the North Atlantic Council.
The world’s eyes have not been on Brussels but on Washing-
ton, D.C., where Donald J. Trump has become the 45th presi-
dent of the United States. But the mood in Brussels, as in all of
Europe’s national capitals, is anxious and even apprehensive.
What, ask the E.U.’s “Eurocrats”—officials of the European Com-
mission and other institutions—will happen to trans-Atlantic
The questions hanging over the E.U.-U.S. relationship are
made larger and all the more daunting by Europe’s own difficul-
ties. The looming departure of the United Kingdom from the
E.U.’s ranks following last summer’s “Brexit” vote has deepened
a climate of doubt. Europeans are no longer confident that their
60-year project of progressive economic and political integra-
tion still has a rosy future.
Fears over immigration and resentment against the job-
shifting effects of globalization have seen the rise of anti-estab-
lishment populists on both the extreme left and the extreme
right ends of the political spectrum. From Greece to Italy to
Spain, and even in level-headed Scandinavian countries, the
apple carts of the old order are being upset by newcomers who
challenge the European Union and its values.
This year will see scheduled elections in France, the Nether-
BY G I L ES MERR I TT