By Abby Shamray
Editor in Chief
In Brussels on February 20, United States Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech to assuage fears that the White House wants to break up the European Union. He told European leaders that “the United States’ commitment to the European Union is steadfast and enduring,” according to the Washington Post.
Mike Pence accompanied U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to Europe for a weeklong tour as a way to quell the concern that a change in U.S. foreign policy would negatively affect U.S.-E.U. relations.
European Council President Donald Tusk, who called himself an “incurably pro-American European,” was satisfied with his meeting with Pence and Mattis, saying “Too much has happened over the past month in your country, and in the E.U. Too many new and sometimes surprising opinions have been voiced over this time about our relations, and our common security, for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be,” reported CNN.
The statement of “cooperation and partnership” on the last day surprised some onlookers in the wake of what was said on other stops on the tour and what U.S. President Donald Trump has said in the past. “People were not reassured. They think that Trump is erratic and incalculable. We all hear what we want to hear. But everyone knows that any Trump official could be gone tomorrow, or undercut in another tweet,” Daniela Schwarzer of the German Council on Foreign Relations told The New York Times.
At the Munich Security Conference during the trip, Pence and Mattis stuck to prepared statements, even while India and China took questions. Pence criticized European countries for failing to meet NATO spending pledges, aiming his message at Germany, France, and Italy, according to the Guardian. He also expressed the need to counter Russian aggression, expressing hope regarding Trump’s search for “new common ground with Russia,” reported CNN.
It did not go unnoticed that Pence did not mention the E.U., according to the Irish Times.
Pence’s speech immediately followed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s in which she stated that Germany would not be intimidated by the U.S.’ focus on defense spending and that Germany saw investment in developing countries as being as important as military spending.
After the Munich Security Conference, Pence, Merkel, and the leaders of Ukraine and the Baltic States held bilateral talks in which Merkel avoided direct references to Trump and encouraged further multilateralism, reported the Guardian. Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said after the meeting, “I put my trust in them, so I am definitely reassured. [Pence] said if you don’t want to call the president, you can always call me,” according to the Washington Post.
When Mattis visited NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, he expressed that NATO should spend more on defense or the U.S. would “moderate its commitment to the alliance,” according to the Economist. Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and stated that the U.S. would not help allies unless they had “paid their dues.” Mattis’s assurance that the U.S. stood with NATO was dampened by the consistent anti-NATO rhetoric.
European leaders have expressed both public and private suspicion regarding Pence and Mattis’ message of support. During his campaign and presidency, Trump called Brussels a “hellhole,” supported Brexit, called the E.U. “basically a vehicle for Germany,” and invented a terror attack in Sweden.
Additionally, many European leaders suspect Pence to either be a shadow president or do not believe that he truly speaks for the president, reported the Washington Post. At every stop on the tour, Pence made frequent reference to Trump and repeated that the assurance he was delivering was on behalf of the U.S. president, according to the Guardian.
U.S. reaction to the European trip has also been mixed. Republican Senator John McCain countered Mattis and Pence’s message of cooperation by saying at the Munich Security Conference that the Trump administration is in “disarray,” according to Reuters. On the other hand, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told “Face the Nation” that U.S. allies “feel better” after Pence’s statements.