Donald Trump's loud European vacation
In continental Europe it really isn't the done thing to start telling it like it is. So when Donald Trump lectured Europeans about defence expenditure and refugees and trade he offended a lot of people merely by telling the truth. Good on Donald Trump!
For someone who professes not to like foreign travel, Donald Trump is a glutton for punishment. After a gruelling visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine he arrived in Europe.
His first meeting, on 24th of May, was with the Pope. It would have been wonderful to have been a fly on the wall at their private meeting: these are two men who, despite obvious differences, have one great thing in common. They both say the first thing which comes into their heads and then suffer the consequences.
Donald Trump said he would never forget what His Holiness said to him, and one can imagine this to be true. It could have been anything from demanding he give away all his wealth to the poor to asking if he were gay.
At the broader meeting later Trump was asked not to give up on the Paris climate accords; this has as much chance of success as inviting him to give away all his money.
To Brussels then, to see the bureaucrats and lecture NATO. What is surprising here is that the Europeans are surprised by Trump. They find him even more shocking than the other Anglo-Saxons on their doorstep. For in Europe, it really is not the done thing to speak your mind.
It is, for example, obvious to meaner intelligences than Donald Trump’s that Germany and Italy, under the guise of talking a polite pacifism, hope to get their defence on the cheap.
It is simply not good form to talk about this, and the leaders grinned with embarrassment at the President’s gaucheness. He even mentioned arrears in contributions.
Then Air Force One headed back south to Sicily. Taormina is a pretty place at this time of year, perched on the side of Mount Etna; its scented terraces, Roman amphitheatre and views of Homer’s wine-dark sea making it a popular destination.
The Italian hosts picked Sicily for the G7 meeting because they wanted to draw attention to the refugee crisis. Trump, apparently, was full of understanding, but that was it. He pointed out that Europe cannot even agree internally on this subject.
I felt sorry for Italy: Trump was in no mood to take in a group of Syrians, Merkel has an election to win, and Austria and all points east and north are positively hostile. Macron’s predecessor closed the French-Italian border at Menton, noticing the refugees blended uneasily with the usual Cote d’Azure crowd.
Indeed it wasn’t a great day for refugees: Sicily was closed to them because of the great and good, so boatloads were transferred to Naples.
But if the refugee problem was an easy ball to bat away, Trump is still not happy in this environment. The G7, everybody knows, is America, Canada, Japan, Britain, Germany, France and Italy. Wrong.
The photographs show nine people: there was Donald Tusk, one of the Presidents of Europe, and the grinning figure of Jean-Claude Juncker, never one to miss a decent lunch. Without being a member of the G7, the EU had secured two places on top of its four member countries.
On trade, Trump committed another of his ‘blunders’. It is well known that by sharing a currency with the European Olive Belt, Germany is keeping the euro low and giving its exporters an easy ride. But you’re not supposed to say that. ‘Bad, very bad’, was what Trump said, wondering how many Chevrolets there were in Germany.
One group which will have appreciated Trump’s plain speaking, however, is the fringe countries of Europe. The Baltic States do indeed want Germany to spend more money on defence; they have the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in their midst.
Beata Szydlow of Poland recently said they would not respect a requirement from Brussels to take more refugees. And the coal burning economies of the East are not interested in this climate stuff.
But these countries have no voice. You might have thought that the point of the presence of Tusk and Juncker at this bash was to stand up for the 250 million EU citizens who were not already part of a G7 country. Wrong again. They were there to speak for mainstream Europe, to give the status quo an extra boost.
And so it finished. Mount Etna had had a small eruption in March, but there were no explosions this time. The summit ended with a dull, squelchy sound. The participants are still trying to understand each other.
Perhaps Trump’s next trip should be to Eastern Europe.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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