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Europe's week: Turmoil, trade and transatlantic relations

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EU Summit video conference at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
EU Summit video conference at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.   -   Copyright  Olivier Matthys/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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This week a veto by Poland and Hungary plunged the European Union into one of its classic artificial crises.

The two countries blocked the long-term EU budget and the huge coronavirus relief package over fears that they would be targeted by a newly negotiated rule-of-law mechanism.

But if you believe you act within the rule of law, there should not be any concerns, said influential MEP Manfred Weber.

Efforts to keep the much-needed economic stimulus on track are now going into overtime, while the clock is mercilessly ticking. Charles Michel, EU Council President, kept an optimistic outlook.

"We will continue to work," he said. "The European Union's magic is its ability to find solutions even when one believes it's impossible. No one underestimates the difficulties and the seriousness of this situation and this obstacle, but there is the will to work very intensively in the coming days to try to progress and resolve the difficulties we are facing."

Brexit talks

There is some other unfinished EU business that refuses to go away: Brexit. That clock is ticking toward December 31st when the transition period ends.

Britain and the EU will need a trade deal to govern ties – or face economic chaos. Right now that seems like an uphill battle listening to Britain's chief negotiator in Brussels this week.

Earlier this week David Frost, UK chief Brexit negotiator, said that the aim was to get a deal but admitted 'there is still quite a lot to do.'

EU on the world stage

When Joe Biden won the US presidential election, a majority of EU leaders believed that transatlantic relations would be bright again.

That didn't stop French President Emmanuel Macron from advocating a more strategically independent Europe. After all, you can't rely on America forever, the next Trump might just be waiting in the wings.

That prompted a surprisingly strong rejection from Germany's defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer:

"Without America's nuclear and conventional capabilities, Germany and Europe cannot protect themselves. These are the sobering facts."

Macron has triggered a debate that has the potential to create new divisions in Europe.

Enrico Letta

And Italy's former prime minister, Enrico Letta, doesn't completely disagree with the French President's either: "I know and I see that what Macron is saying is always within a European solidarity context. So, I think the possibility today to have this famous strategic autonomy at a European level is something important. It is not because of Trump. I always remind people of this fact and underline that when the European Union approved the new global strategy, it was in June 2016 - so it was before Trump was elected."

But he does, however, believe that Europe and the US can begin to have a better relationship under a Biden administration: "I think there is room today for an improved transatlantic alliance and I think there is a strong need at world level. It is the first crisis, the pandemic, the first crisis ever where we didn't have any transatlantic dialogue, any transatlantic common response. So, I think we need it. I think the four years of Trump were not just a nightmare, they were a reality. And at the end of the day, they created a wider gap between Europe and the US."