Taoiseach’s visit to White House: Enda Kenny to fly the flag for Europe

IN a curious twist of fate, the Taoiseach will be the flagbearer of the EU when he meets President Trump at the White House today. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was to have met the President yesterday but snow storms in the US have delayed that meeting until tomorrow.

Taoiseach’s visit to White House: Enda Kenny to fly the flag for Europe

Enda Kenny has not been without advice about what he should say to Donald Trump. They extend from the predictable — plead the case for undocumented Irish — to the ridiculous — tell him he’s a racist.

The Taoiseach has already dismissed calls, both in Ireland and the US, to snub Trump and not to go to the White House.

It is unlikely, therefore, that he will seek to antagonise him but it is important that the visit is more than the usual photo opportunity of the Taoiseach presenting a bowl of shamrock to the president.

He should, of course, raise the case of the 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants but he must not let the opportunity pass to impress upon Trump the importance for America of maintaining a good relationship with the EU.

So far, President Trump has not got that message and remarks he has made herald an unprecedented deterioration in post-war relations between the US and Europe.

On the day of his inauguration on January 20, Mr Trump gave an interview in which he described the EU as a vehicle for German domination, praised Brexit and predicted that other member states would also leave the union.

Asked in the interview with The Sunday Times and Germany’s Bild newspaper whether a strong EU served US interests, he said: “Look, the EU was formed, partially, to beat the United States on trade, OK? So, I don’t really care whether it’s separate or together, to me it doesn’t matter.”

This has been interpreted by some commentators as suggesting he is setting as one of his goals the break-up of the EU.

That may be a far too pessimistic view. Nonetheless, Trump’s “America First” position represents a seismic shift in relations between the US and the EU.

His remarks prompted French President Francois Hollande to say that “transatlantic cooperation” will from now on be based on Europe’s own “interests and values”.

The last time tensions emerged so sharply was in 2003, prior to the Iraq War, when US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denounced France and Germany for failing to support the US in Iraq, saying they represented “old Europe”.

If that remains the attitude of the White House, it is unlikely that Angela Merkel, as a representative of “old Europe” will be able to make the president change his mind.

He has already threatened Germany’s car industry with sanctions and blamed Merkel’s refugee policy with destabilising the EU.

But the leader of a small country, with no pretensions other than to pursue peace and prosperity for its people, might be more persuasive.

The EU has undoubtedly been good for Ireland but self-interest should not prevent the Taoiseach from seeking to persuade the president that a strong EU, even without the UK, is in the best interests of the US, if for no other reason than as a market for American goods.

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