“More of a G6 plus one than a G7.” That’s the gloomy verdict of France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire after an acrimonious meeting of G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) finance ministers. The cause of the row? Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium.
And the French aren’t alone: the Japanese government has described the situation as “extremely deplorable”. For the first time, the world’s seven most advanced economies meet with no real idea what will be agreed by the end of the summit and with the real possibility of a trade war breaking out between the G6 and Donald Trump’s United States.
Although Trump does have supporters on the right flank of the major right-wing parties, most European politicians, in the UK and abroad, are not-so-secretly hoping that Trump will be defeated by a Democrat in 2020 and that “normality” will be restored.
Parking, for the moment, that it is by no means certain that Trump will be a one-term proposition, take a moment to look at the trajectory of the Republican Party these past two decades. A party that most European conservatives happily cheered for throughout the Cold War period, which created the Environmental Protection Agency and was largely pro-free trade has been replaced by one that is agnostic at best on climate change, is increasingly protectionist and sceptical of the value of the multilateral institutions that the United States itself built.
And beyond integration of European defence forces – as much driven by spending restraint in the continent’s major defence powers, France and the UK, as anything else – no one has really thought about what that means for Europe and European strategy that the new normal may well be a situation in which one of the United States’ two major parties is increasingly at odds with the strategic and economic interests of Europe and indeed the rest of its traditional allies.