A year of bitterness for trans-Atlantic ties

2019-12-31 01:04:14 GMT2019-12-31 09:04:14(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

BRUSSELS, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- With bitter frictions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, trans-Atlantic ties have registered an unhappy endnote in 2019. A lengthy and growing list of differences highlighted the widening rift between the traditional allies, heightening Europe's urgency to take a more independent worldview.

NORD STREAM SANCTIONS

Toward the end of the year, the last remaining work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea had to be suspended due to a bill signed by U.S. President Donald Trump imposing sanctions.

Scheduled to start operation in 2020, the 1,230-kilometer-long pipeline could deliver 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year.

The U.S. has said the pipeline would make the European continent too reliant on Russia, but German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said that Germany "firmly rejects" the U.S. legislation imposing sanctions on companies laying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe.

"Such sanctions are a serious interference in the internal affairs of Germany and Europe and their sovereignty. We firmly reject this," Scholz told German broadcaster ARD.

"It is very incomprehensible and should not be among friends who are linked together in NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization)," said Scholz.

Siegfried Fischer, a senior research fellow with the Potsdam-based WeltTrends Institute for International Politics, told Xinhua in an interview that Washington might just want to sell more of its own liquified natural gas (LNG) to its NATO allies.

"The United States wants to sell liquified gas to Europe. But U.S. LNG is much more expensive than Russia gas in Europe," said Fischer. "The two senators, Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson, from Texas and Wisconsin respectively, are the strongest men behind the sanctions. They want to throw away competition with the sanctions. That's for sure. Definitely. Not only Nord Stream 2, but also TurkStream."

TurkStream pipeline, also under U.S. sanctions, consists of two 930-km offshore gas pipelines. It is planned to start operation at the end of this year, crossing the Black Sea to Turkey and expecting to connect Russian gas reserves further to Bulgaria, Serbia and Italy.

FRICTIONS ON MANY FRONTS

The row over Nord Stream 2 is just one of the many trans-Atlantic frictions erupted in 2019.

Towards the end of the year, France, another key European Union member, drew the ire of the U.S. for launching a digital service tax for global technology companies -- a 3-percent levy on companies with global revenues above 750 million euros yearly generated from digital activities, of which 25 million euros are made in France.

Washington, believing that France was unfairly targeting the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, threatened tariffs on French exports. The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said it wishes to settle with the U.S. over the French digital tax "amicably" but warned that the bloc will "react as one" if Washington indeed slaps tariffs.

On another trade front, the U.S. metal tariffs on EU exports, and the bloc's retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products, persisted. A decade-long dispute over subsidies to aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus has also resulted in U.S. tariffs on EU products, with the EU expected to impose its tariffs on U.S. products following proceedings in the World Trade Organization in 2020.

It's not just trade. Throughout the year, the U.S. repeatedly prodded its European allies to increase defense spending, while Brussels balked at unilateral sanctions imposed by Washington on Iran and Cuba. Climate change, perhaps the number one subject on EU agenda these days, is a no-go for the Trump administration that withdrew from the Paris climate accord.

SOUL-SEARCHING IN BRUSSELS

What will actually happen is far from certain, and a soul-searching has already begun in Brussels, with analysts saying the Trump administration's disregard for the trans-Atlantic partnership a leading cause.

Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission president, has vowed for a "geopolitical commission" that speaks "the language of confidence" in a "European way" on the world stage, and "strategic autonomy" has become the new buzzword in Brussels.

"Europe's strategic reappraisal is largely, though not entirely, a function of President Donald Trump. While his predecessors in Washington often pressed the Europeans to ramp up defense spending, Trump has upended the trans-Atlantic alliance in several ways," wrote Stewart Patrick, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think-tank, in a blog post.

"He has depicted it as obsolete, questioned America's commitments to NATO's mutual defense as outlined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, and taken precipitous actions without consulting allies in Europe",Patrick wrote.

"Confronting such uncertainty, Europeans naturally want to hedge their bets," he added.

 

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