In the final days of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, European Union leader Donald Tusk could no longer contain himself: “One Donald is more than enough!” he wrote on Twitter. When Trump was elected less than a week later, it made for an awkward start to what proved to be four difficult years of trans-Atlantic relations.
As Trump becomes the first former president to face federal charges that could put him in jail, many Europeans are watching the case closely. But hardly a single world leader has said a thing recently about the man leading the race for the Republican party nomination.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who Foreign Policy Magazine named its “Diplomat of the Year” in 2019 for helping the alliance navigate an “ uncertain future” during the Trump years, demonstrated his chops when asked about a second term: It took him less than three sentences to change the topic to the television series “The Crown.”
It's not that the global public isn't interested. Trump's court appearance grabbed headlines and figured prominently on evening newscasts across much of Europe.
As far away as New Zealand, most “are watching the Trump circus with the same sense of horror and fascination that marked his last days in office" in early 2021 when the U.S. Capitol was attacked, said David Capie, a professor of international relations at Victoria University of Wellington.
Few European leaders would welcome Trump's reelection. His policies on climate, trade and security clashed with European interests and sensibilities, and many fear that he would withdraw robust U.S. support for the war in Ukraine.
“The whole world has the same concern. We hope that the U.S. election restores a bit of rationality,” said José Pio Borges, president of the Brazilian Center for International Relations think tank said Tuesday. “Not that we have great appreciation for Biden, but there is no comparison.”
In other parts of the world where the U.S. feels farther away, like China and India, the trial passed by with much less notice.
And then, a minority of world leaders is openly cheering for Trump to make a comeback. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed Trump in 2016, and said the war in Ukraine wouldn’t be happening if Trump was still president. In a speech last month, he cried: “Come back, Mr. President! Make America great again, and bring us peace!”
The nature of the allegations against Trump being tried now also matter to allied leaders. Prosecutors allege he was reckless with classified information, including secrets shared by or about intelligence partners.
“Were Donald Trump to be elected President, then absolutely, there will be certain governments that are going to be concerned,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and Americas Program at the London-based think tank Chatham House. She added that the current case was “very clear evidence, you know, of his willingness to play fast and loose with secret and top secret documents.”
With NATO allies and as far as Australia and New Zealand, the United States has a dense network of military security cooperation deals where secrecy, due diligence and trust in exchanging sensitive information are essential.
The indictment alleges Trump intentionally retained hundreds of classified documents after leaving office in January 2021, and then stored them in cardboard boxes in locations including a bathroom, a ballroom and a bedroom. The documents contained information on nuclear programs, defense and weapons capabilities of the U.S. and foreign governments, and a Pentagon “attack plan,” prosecutors wrote.
“It’s so far beyond the pale of the imagination of most people who work in intelligence that it really, you know, you do have to sort of laugh. But it’s obviously very grave, very serious,” Vinjamuri told the AP.
Governments themselves have shied away from addressing such sensitive issues on the record, but it's clear that most U.S. allies, especially in Europe, have embraced Biden as their best hope to rekindle old alliances and build cooperation to contain climate change.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created Europe’s biggest crisis in decades, and many European nations have stood shoulder to shoulder with Biden in facing Putin and slapping sanction after sanction on the Kremlin.
The war has even driven reassessments in some countries that were once inclined toward Trump's view of the world.
In Poland, the nationalist conservative government did not hide its admiration for Trump when he was elected, and agreed with him on issues including opposition to large-scale migration, especially by Muslims. In 2017, Poland’s conservative President Andrzej Duda said that if the U.S. set up a base in Poland it would be called Fort Trump, and later Duda was one of the last world leaders to congratulate Biden after his election victory.
But Duda and others are grateful for Biden’s assurances to Poland and his two visits to Warsaw since Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
Ukraine itself has received vital aid from the Biden administration, but has shown no interest in commenting on Biden's political rival. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tried not to take sides during Trump’s first impeachment saga despite playing a central role in it, much as he's welcomed China's peace plan for the conflict despite widespread perceptions that it favors Moscow.
But this time, European leaders are keeping their opinions about Trump to themselves.
“One of the most interesting questions here in the United Kingdom, across Europe and elsewhere, is: what are Europeans doing to prepare for the possibility that Donald Trump could return to the White House? And I think the reality is, not a lot right now," Vinjamuri said.
Donald Tusk is now running to lead Poland after elections in the fall. As a prime minister, the last thing he would want is to pick another fight with a Donald.
AP Writers from across the globe contributed.