When the EU and Canada meet for talks this week, their encounter will be calm, pleasant and even, in the words of one EU diplomat, “just plain boring.” But both sides will be contending with a looming problem — Donald J. Trump.
The prospect of another Trump presidency in the U.S. is spooking both Brussels and Ottawa as leaders plan to meet in St. John’s, a remote Canadian harbor city symbolic of their bilateral relationship: historically rooted, pleasant and friendly.
The U.S. is key to the economies of both sides. As the EU, especially, struggles to cope with the trade legacy of the previous Trump term, the unpredictability of another Trump presidency is sending shivers through Brussels. POLITICO spoke to several officials briefed on the summit who said next year’s U.S. elections will overshadow the talks.
After the recent visit of EU leaders to the White House, the bloc’s relationship with the U.S. will be discussed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to officials briefed on the summit. Another four years of antagonism under a Trump White House would be a grave blow to the EU and Canada; both also fear that U.S. military and financial support for Ukraine will disintegrate with a Trump presidency.
For now, the talks should provide the participants with a break after weeks of navigating both the war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war.
European Council President Charles Michel met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv earlier this week, while Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has travelled to the Middle East following initial criticism of her response to the war between Israel and Hamas — geopolitical challenges on which the EU and Canada are cooperating at “unrivaled historic levels,” according to an EU official. In early December, both European leaders are set to travel to Beijing for their EU-China summit, from which they risk returning empty-handed.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval ratings have been in free-fall since the summer. Court rulings and the politics of affordability have dented his record on the climate, casting uncertainty on timelines for major projects. Fallout from the Israel-Hamas war has also hurt morale within his Liberal Party.
In St. John’s, at least, leaders will be able to reaffirm their bilateral relationship and underscore their “shared commitment to democratic values, multilateralism and the international rules-based order,” which elsewhere are falling apart. The two sides are set to double down on their bilateral commitments in new policy fields with an “impressive list of deliverables,” according to the EU official, including a green alliance, more cooperation on raw materials, and a digital partnership.
Another EU diplomat said that while there are no mutual irritants, “a few irritants could be a welcome challenge to dynamize the relationship.”
But while the EU remains on a good footing with Canada, it has struggled with the current U.S. administration of President Joe Biden, most notably with Washington’s Inflation Reduction Act, which will also be discussed on the sidelines of the St. John’s summit. The EU had worried that the $369 billion IRA would hollow out the bloc’s economy as firms decamped across the Atlantic to take advantage of its massive subsidies. Brussels and Washington continue to negotiate a high-stakes agreement on critical minerals to allow electric vehicle batteries made by European companies to qualify for the IRA’s consumer tax credits.
EU Ambassador to Canada Melita Gabrič told POLITICO that Ottawa’s relationship with the bloc is “closer than it has ever been.” She declined, however, to say if she saw Trump’s potential return as a catalyst for even closer ties in the year ahead.
“We will see what happens, but certainly we put a premium on our transatlantic relations,” she said, referring to both the U.S. and Canada.
Barbara Moens reported from Brussels. Zi-Ann Lum reported from Ottawa. Camille Gijs contributed reporting from Brussels.