The Trump administration is hoping that a change in EU leaders this fall will “make impasses go away,” including in an ongoing trade dispute, according to Americas ambassador to the bloc, Gordon Sondland.
“Our relationship had reached multiple impasses on multiple fronts with the European Union, on trade and on other matters, and resulted in what I would call a lot of uncomfortable cranky conversations,” Sondland told reporters Tuesday after accompanying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meetings with the EUs four incoming senior officials: Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen; Council President-elect Charles Michel; the nominee for foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell; and the new European Parliament President David Sassoli.
The briefing, in which Sondland expressed optimism about developing a good working relationship with the new leadership team in Brussels, also provided a frank — and hardly upbeat — assessment of the working relationship with current officials, including Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who negotiated directly with U.S. President Donald Trump in the trade dispute.
Trump unilaterally imposed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum last year, prompting retaliatory measures by the EU. The U.S. president has threatened a further escalation, including tariffs on cars made in the EU as well as on signature European products like French wine. Juncker helped broker a temporary truce in July 2018, but Trump is due to make a decision on further tariffs in November.
At the briefing, Sondland complained there had been little progress with the EUs current crop of leaders — a point underscored by Trump, who tweeted his latest gripe about Brussels treating the U.S. “VERY unfairly on Trade.”
Trump has dismayed European and EU leaders by generally upending global politics with his combativeness and unpredictability.
Asked if he felt more optimistic that new trade negotiations could begin before Trumps November deadline, Sondland said any progress was unlikely until the EU changes its leadership. Junckers term ends on October 31, while Council President Donald Tusks final day in office is November 30.
“First of all, the current leadership has the portfolio today and with the current leadership, were at somewhat of an impasse,” Sondland said. “There are some things we are working on that are again in the low-hanging fruit category but that dont really have a material impact from a monetary standpoint.
“When the deadline comes, the president will make a decision based on a number of factors and that will be the presidents decision as to how he feels about the prospects of improved momentum and what he hears from his advisers,” Sondland continued, adding: “But with the current leadership there is a pathway that we have been on for quite some time, it has not borne a great deal of fruit but we will continue on that path and do the best we can until the leadership changes and then well have to re-evaluate.”
Sondland called the incoming EU administrations meetings with Pompeo “extremely warm, extremely friendly” and added, “I would say that everyone got up from the meeting feeling very optimistic about the future.”
Gordon Sondland called the incoming EU administrations meetings with Pompeo “extremely warm, extremely friendly” | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images
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