Not all European powers have turned away. Hungary’s illiberal leader, Viktor Orban, has built a beneficial friendship with Trump. So has Poland, another illiberal democracy in eastern Europe. Just one day after the European Commission announced it would sue Warsaw for passing a set of laws that would limit the independence of its courts, Trump praised the country for its “independence.”

What’s next?

Observers say Europe can, and should, do more to protect its sovereign interests. As Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) writes, “In order to have a strong transatlantic alliance, the EU will need to develop the tools to think for itself and stand up for its own interests and the international order that underpins them.”

They will need this leverage if they hope to extract any concessions from the US, Shapiro says. “The usual way you would deal with the American ally is to appeal to the strategic value of the relationship, the cultural ties, the longstanding sense that ‘We’re in this together,'” he explains. “None of that was working with Donald Trump. So then you have to confront him from a position of strength.”

Trump may want to reimagine the transatlantic relationship to better benefit the US, but his approach appears to be driven by the idea that a splintered, weaker Europe is preferable to a unified one. This ultimately risks hurting the US, as Europe has sought to circumvent American authority on trade issues and has drawn closer to China in the process. “Playing ‘divide and rule’ is a good idea when dealing with real enemies, but it makes no sense to sow division among countries with whom one has generally friendly relations and close economic ties, and when their collective support might be needed in other contexts,” writes international affairs professor Stephen M. Walt.

Alina Polyakova, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that a US retreat poses an opportunity for Europe. ”Europe has a great capacity for … political leverage that they’re not using at all,” she says. “As the US potentially takes a step back from having this role as the shining beacon of Western liberal democracy, that could be an opportunity for Europe to step in.”

That’s what European leaders seem to have decided to do, as they go head-to-head with the US over secondary sanctions, trade, climate change, and defense spending. As Shapiro explains, “They’re essentially saying: Don’t take us for granted.” 

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