Highlights from EU Summit: From Putin Slapdown to Trump Tariffs
(Bloomberg) -- A trade war and the poisoning of a Russian spy meant Brexit barely got a look-in at what was meant to be the Brexit summit.
As EU Council President Donald Tusk put it: “We addressed a number of specific global economic and political risks, including those related to the actions of Presidents Trump, Putin, Erdogan, and Brexit.”
Over a three-course dinner that stretched seven hours (scallops, rack of lamb and iced lemon parfait) Prime Minister Theresa May convinced all 28 nations to agree that “there is no plausible alternative explanation” other than that Russia carried out a chemical attack on British soil. This time next year she won’t be in the room.
On President Donald Trump’s trade tariffs, the bloc also spoke with one voice -- literally at times -- as the leaders of both France and Belgium accused the U.S. of putting “a gun to our head.” These are the main takeaways.
1. Theresa May Scores a Diplomatic Win on Russia
It’s not often that the British prime minister walks away happy from a summit in Brussels. She went into the dinner needing to prove that Russians were responsible for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England. Greece and Italy had to be brought on board for tougher language and Germany’s Angela Merkel intervened twice to help. It all came together, something that as Tusk noted is “not so easy.” On Monday, a number of countries are expected to expel Russian officials. How many? More than one but not the entire group is all that Tusk would let on.
2. Donald Trump Leaves EU Hanging Over Tariffs
The EU dodged a U.S. bullet on trade and responded with as much annoyance as relief. After gaining a last-minute temporary waiver from Trump’s tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, the bloc insisted it be granted a permanent exclusion, pushed back against conditions the U.S. wants to negotiate for the relief to be prolonged beyond May 1 and kept alive the threat of tit-for-retaliation. “We won’t talk about anything while there’s a gun pointed at our head,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after the summit.
Although the EU shares many of the American concerns on China, it says tariffs aren’t the way to go, and it’s doubtful whether the bloc will be a willing to follow Trump’s lead in a potential trade war. “A trade war has started, and we only seek to take cover,” an EU official said. And the EU knows the exemption comes at a price.
3. Brexit was Dealt With in a Flash
Leaders took all of 30 seconds to sign off the Brexit agreements. But the specter of the divorce hung over May’s diplomatic victory on Russia. A year from now she won’t have the same clout she has now and Britain will be forging a lonely path in an increasingly volatile world. Still, Macron had some positive words for May: he’s up for offering the U.K. an "ambitious" trade deal. But he was clear that if it’s to be as ambitious as May wants, she’ll need to rub out some red lines. Dutch Premier Mark Rutte hoped that some red lines would have faded by June.
4. The Most Powerful Bureaucrat in Brussels
The chief of staff to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is already one of the most controversial and influential figures in Brussels. The Brits loathe him as they see him as responsible for a number of damaging leaks relating to Brexit. It was no surprise that his ascent to an even more powerful post fueled allegations about of a stitch-up. When asked about Martin Selmayr’s appointment as the EU’s top civil servant, Macron said that for the “sake of transparency” a probe into how he was chosen must be allowed to conclude. Juncker, who was behind the promotion, said that he’s the only one who can fire Selmayr and he’s not going to.
5. Facebook Draws Criticism, Regulators Mull Action
From leaders there were expressions of dismay and horror in the wake of allegations that information on millions of Facebook Inc.’s users was scooped up without their consent. EU privacy watchdogs this week vowed to investigate “to better understand what exactly happened and who should be blamed for what.” Yet the ability to fine companies varies from state to state. New EU rules from May 25 will change this, and companies will risk penalties of as much as 4 percent of annual sales for serious violations.
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