Donald Tusk, the European Council president, has told EU countries to prepare for “worst-case scenarios” as relations with the US under Donald Trump rapidly deteriorate.
Mr Tusk wrote to EU states setting out his concern amid a growing trade war, but said “divisions” also go further and that Mr Trump’s behaviour threatens the West’s unity.
Senior EU officials at a briefing later in the day fleshed out his message, saying the US president’s approach to international politics is “very dangerous” and represented the start of a new “worrying” American doctrine.
It comes ahead of a European Council summit at which Mr Tusk is expected to give a speech recounting fractious events at the G7 summit where world leaders argued with Mr Trump over trade tariffs.
Mr Tusk has been an outspoken critic of the US leader, using his Twitter account to challenge Mr Trump’s policies.
But in his letter to EU leaders, he lamented repeated failed attempts to keep transatlantic relations stable.
He told them: “Despite our tireless efforts to keep the unity of the West, transatlantic relations are under immense pressure due to the policies of President Trump.
“Unfortunately, the divisions go beyond trade. I will share with you my political assessment of where things stand.
“It is my belief that, while hoping for the best, we must be ready to prepare our union for worst-case scenarios.”
The consequences of Mr Trump’s trade war with Europe deepened earlier this week when Harley-Davidson announced it would move some manufacturing out of the US to avoid EU tariffs.
The conflict was first sparked when Mr Trump hit steel imports, coming into the US, with tariffs, after which the EU imposed its own duties.
Brussels has prepared further measures in case of new White House action, while Mr Trump is threatening to target car parts brought into the country from the EU and Japan.
But officials in Brussels said on Wednesday that the trade war appeared to form only part of an emerging new Trump doctrine that could have wide implications for the world.
A senior official said: “Since the beginning of the Trump presidency we have had a lot of questions. Since that time we got very many answers – many negative answers – in the context of the Paris agreement, in the context of trade, in the context of security issues.
“We are more and more concerned that these are not just incidents – it is starting to look like a pattern… which is indeed very worrying from the perspective of Europeans – a pattern of a new American doctrine in which there are no friends, no enemies, a pattern of a doctrine in which a rule-based international system is not at the very centre, it’s not the very biggest value.
“That is a doctrine that for the EU, and more broadly for Europe, is very dangerous.”
Mr Trump wants reform of WTO rules and says Europe has treated the US “very unfair” on trade.
The same senior official said the EU shared many of the US’s concerns, adding that they “reflect the already agreed position of the US and Japan in Paris.”
He also cited the need to expand the WTO rulebook on subsidies, including by state-owned enterprises, for better protection of intellectual property rights, and joint transatlantic opposition to forced technology transfers.
The EU has previously hinted that it believes China is to blame for steel overproduction and dumping, but officials have said they will not negotiate with the US on action while it is threatening Europe economically.
EU leaders will discuss migration at the summit on Thursday, and then hear from Theresa May for an update on Brexit talks.
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