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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

APRIL 2017

29

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.

THE

CHALLENGES

FACING EUROPE

Giles Merritt reported for the

Financial Times

as a

foreign correspondent for 15 years, five of them from

Brussels, and subsequently was an

International Herald

Tribune

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).

T

here’s a sense of

fin d’époque

in the

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

relationship.

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rabilia have been replaced by faded patches and metal hooks.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

FOCUS

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

relations now?

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