February 28, 2017 / 3:00 PM / 7 months ago

Trump's "European Apprentice" is a real-life sequel

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Governor's Dinner in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Donald Trump is creating a closed-door spinoff of the reality-TV show that helped make him famous. The U.S. president’s support for Brexit and criticism of the European Union has unnerved its members. Allies are privately scrambling to get through the White House door. Call it the “European Apprentice.”

Trump turned the process of selecting his cabinet into a real-life episode of the show, where participants compete to get hired. Now he’s putting EU nations through a similar contest.

The president has described NATO as obsolete, praised the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU and encouraged other countries to follow its lead. Privately, Trump administration officials have emphasized that they prefer bilateral relations to dealing with supranational bodies. White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon delivered that message to Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Reuters reported last week.

Competition for Trump’s favor is intense. British diplomats fought to ensure that Prime Minister Theresa May was the first foreign leader to visit the White House. The two leaders held a joint press conference – and briefly held hands – a week after Trump was sworn in. Britain hopes its “special relationship” will enable it to discuss a trade deal with the United States before it leaves the EU, strengthening its Brexit negotiating position.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was not far behind. He scored a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the former Exxon Mobil chief’s first day in the job. Gabriel said he wanted to offer “friendship and trust” – even though he had previously called Trump a “threat.” Given that the real-estate tycoon has described the EU as “a vehicle for Germany” and the country has a $65 billion trade surplus with the United States, some urgent diplomacy is necessary.

EU members have pledged unity in the face of U.S. hostility. Privately, however, some countries are worried that others will find favor by cutting side deals, such as increasing purchases of American military equipment. “We are very sluggish as an organization,” a European diplomat told Reuters Breakingviews. “Member states who are worried about their position can do something alone and act more quickly.” Even behind closed doors, countries are still eager to hear the president tell them “you’re hired.”

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