President Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claimed symbolic victories, but not much else.
“I had the intention to make a deal today,” Juncker said alongside Trump from the White House Rose Garden in an unscheduled press conference. “And we made a deal today.”
This “new phase” in the transatlantic relationship would have seemed fanciful less than two weeks ago, when Trump declared the EU a “foe” of the United States for “what they do to us in trade.” Before that, the American president publicly sparred with European leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Quebec over Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. Similar confrontations emerged during this month’s nato summit in Brussels, when the president voiced more frustration with Europe—this time over defense spending.
But neither side walked away with substantial wins. To get Trump to dial back his threats on EU auto exports, Juncker promised that the EU would import more soybeans and natural gas—two things the bloc is already doing. In exchange for this PR victory, Trump gave Juncker the opportunity to claim that he had averted new tariffs on EU car exports (for now). “Instead of a firm commitment, what we really got was big language of striking collaboration and entering into dialogue,” Marianne Schneider-Petsinger, a U.S. geoeconomics fellow at the London-based Chatham House, told me. “This combined with Trump’s history of backtracking might mean that there might be a couple of more surprises as things develop over the next couple of months.”
And if the talks break down? Trump can return to declaring that tariffs “are the greatest!” and Juncker can claim that he promised nothing that wasn’t already happening and, if nothing else, that he at least bought European car manufacturers more time. “I would be very cautiously optimistic about this,” Schneider-Petsinger said. “It was a surprise, it was a positive step. But it’s not this breakthrough that some people seem to make this out to be.”