Macron and Merkel round on Trump as Europe rages over steel tariffs


EU says it will refuse to negotiate with ‘Sword of Damocles’ over its head

French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel have rounded on Donald Trump over planned steel tariffs on EU producers, telling the US president to scrap his new policy if he wants to negotiate betters trade terms with Europe.

The European leaders reiterated their common position that they would be happy to address Mr Trump’s complaints about the “unfair” way US businesses are treated by the EU – but only if European steel producers are permanently exempted from the new tariffs.

In March, Mr Trump slapped 25 per cent tariffs on steel imports and 10 per cent tariffs on foreign aluminium, but gave the 28 EU countries a temporary exemption until the end of May.

“It’s Europe’s economic sovereignty, and what we are demanding is that we are exempted without conditions or time limits,” said France’s Mr Macron, who confirmed he was prepared to “improve things, in a peaceful setting” once the tariffs had been cancelled.

Germany’s Ms Merkel added: “We have a common position: We want an unlimited exemption, but are then prepared to talk about how we can reciprocally reduce barriers for trade.”

Speaking at the end of the Sofia summit Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission said the EU would “not negotiate with the sword of Damocles hanging over our head” as a “matter of dignity”.

“I have to be very clear once again, and I repeat myself by saying it. We want an unlimited exemption from the proposed tariff measures. If Europe obtains an unlimited exemption from the proposed tariff measures we are ready to engage in talks with our transatlantic partner,” he said at a press conference at the end of the Sofia meeting.

Mr Juncker said that if the tariffs were dropped the EU would be ready to improve transatlantic energy cooperation on the trade of liquefied natural gas, improve reciprocal market access for industrial products, and discuss reforms to the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Trump has already exempted Canada and Mexico from the tariffs on the basis that they will renegotiate the Nafta trade deal to be more favourable to the US.

The EU has threatened billions in countermeasures against US products if it does not get its exemption.

The row over steel tariffs is also running parallel to discussions about how to deal Mr Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. EU leaders agreed on Thursday to allow the European Investment Bank to “facilitate” EU companies’ investments in the Islamic Republic to ensure their continued economic viability. The Commission also plans to unveil measures to protect European businesses hit by new US sanctions on Iran, which the Trump administration has not ruled out hitting EU enterprises with.

On Thursday at the start of the Sofia summit European Council president Donald Tusk tore into Mr Trump, accusing him of being an unreliable ally and acting with “capricious assertiveness”. 

“Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could even think: with friends like that, who needs enemies? But frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful for President Trump because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm,” he said.

Mr Trump has complained about European trade policy, telling ITV in January: “We cannot get our product in. It’s very, very tough. And yet they send their product to use – no taxes, very little taxes. It’s very unfair.

“They’re not the only one, by the way. I could name many countries and places that do. But the European Union has been very, very unfair to the United States. And I think it will turn out to be very much to their detriment.”