U.S. Vice President Mike Pence took a trip to Brussels on Monday, and while he was there, he promised the White House’s “steadfast and enduring” commitment to the European Union. But just a week prior, reports say White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told a German ambassador to Washington a very different story.
People familiar with the discussion say Bannon told the German ambassador that he believed the EU is a flawed institution and wanted to work with Europe bilaterally. The three sources for the story released the information to a reporter from Reuters on the condition that they remain anonymous due to sensitive information.
According to their story, Bannon and the German ambassador had a lengthy conversation in which Bannon explained his full worldview – which they say hasn’t changed much since a speech he gave in 2014 as the head of right-wing website Breitbart News.
And that worldview is decidedly anti-European. During that speech, Bannon explained his support for right-wing populist European movements and nationalism in general. In his view, all of Western Europe was founded by “strong nationalist movements”, and he believes the same kinds of movements are what would see the West forward.
After the Reuters story was released, a White House official reportedly checked with Bannon about the conversation. They confirmed that a meeting took place, but asserted that the Reuters report was inaccurate and the two had only “spoke for about three minutes and it was just a quick hello”.
The German ambassador, Peter Wittig, and the German government in general refused to comment due to confidentiality concerns.
But a source who was briefed about the talk confirmed that Germany, as well as other European partners, will have to begin preparing for a U.S. policy that is hostile to the EU:
“There appears to be no understanding in the White House that an unravelling of the EU would have grave consequences.”
Another source from Germany, Thomas Matussek, former German ambassador to Britain and the UN told Reuters:
“We are worried and we should be worried. No one knows anything at the moment about what sort of decisions will be coming out of Washington. But it is clear that the man on top and the people closest to him feel that it’s the nation state that creates identity and not what they see as an amorphous group of countries like the EU.”
He went on to warn that, should the U.S. support right-wing populist movements in Europe, a “major transatlantic crisis” would be triggered.
So what’s going on with the Trump administration? On Monday in Brussels, Mike Pence was not ambiguous in saying the White House would support the EU:
“President Trump and I look forward to working together with you and the European Union to deepen our political and economic partnership.”
And yet, all reports coming out of this story seem to indicate that one of Trump’s top advisors has no plans to follow through with this promise. Does this tell the story of a divided White House, or a quiet plan within the Trump administration to reverse course in the future? May time tell.