Top European Union official says Trump doesn’t understand Paris climate accord

After Trump’s disastrous trip to Brussels, European leaders are growing more comfortable attacking him in public.

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, U.S. President Donald Trump and President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker watch the Frecce Tricolori Italian Air Force acrobatic squadron performing, in Taormina, Italy, Friday, May 26, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Luca Bruno
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, U.S. President Donald Trump and President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker watch the Frecce Tricolori Italian Air Force acrobatic squadron performing, in Taormina, Italy, Friday, May 26, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

If the past week is any indicator, it might not be long before the United States runs out of friends in Europe.

On Wednesday, news broke that President Donald Trump was formally planning to exit the Paris climate agreement. Leaving the accord would withdraw the United States from international climate negotiations, throwing the future of climate efforts into a tailspin. It’s a controversial and unpopular move — especially with European leaders.

Speaking to a student conference on the future of Europe Wednesday morning, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker emphasized that joining the agreement entailed a number of commitments, and leaving would take several years.

“Europe’s duty is to say: it’s not like that,” Juncker said. “The Americans can’t just leave the climate protection agreement. Mr. Trump believes that because he doesn’t know the details.”

He didn’t stop there. Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News Hallie Jackson tweeted that Juncker also noted the lengths European leaders had gone to in trying to explain the Paris accord to Trump while in Taormina, Italy, at the G7 summit.

“We tried to explain that to Mr. Trump in Taormina in clear German sentences,” Juncker said. “It seems that our attempt failed, but the law is the law, and it must be obeyed. Not everything which is law and not everything in international agreements is fake news, and we have to comply with it.”

Juncker’s comments come after Trump’s acrimonious international trip, the first of his presidency, last week. Attending both a NATO summit and a G7 gathering, in Brussels and Italy respectively, Trump seemed to go out of his way to antagonize world leaders and major U.S. allies. Bickering with his peers over trade, climate, and security, Trump’s unwillingness to pledge U.S. commitment to international efforts and projects struck a nerve. His refusal to heed warnings on climate change proved particularly disheartening, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling talks “very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying.”

She went a step further while speaking later in Germany. As Trump returned home to the United States, Merkel told a crowd in Munich that Europe could no longer rely on U.S. leadership.

“The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” said Merkel. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.” She added, “we have to know that we must fight for our future, on our own, for our destiny as Europeans — and that’s what I want to do together with you.”

Merkel wasn’t the only one to take Trump head-on. Newly-inaugurated French President Emmanuel Macron also seemed prepared to challenge Trump — physically. When the two leaders met in Brussels before a NATO summit, they shook hands for an extended period of time, grasping hands aggressively in what onlookers described as a “white-knuckle” moment.

Lest there be any confusion, the incident was definitely intentional. Macron told French media that the moment was meant to “show he would not make small concessions, not even symbolic ones, but also not overdo things.”

“My handshake with him, it wasn’t innocent,” the French president confirmed. He also made it clear how he sees Trump. “Donald Trump, the Turkish president or the Russian president believe in the logic of the trial of strength, which doesn’t bother me. I don’t believe in the diplomacy of public invective, but in my bilateral dialogues, I don’t let anything pass, that is how we are respected,” Macron said.

All of the criticism from European leaders doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact on Trump, whose foreign policy has been largely incoherent. With the United States set to withdraw from the Paris accord, that lack of cohesion now seems more dangerous than ever. Withdrawing would make the United States, the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter, one of only three countries abstaining from the deal. One is Nicaragua, which has pushed for a more stringent agreement, and is expected to eventually join; the other is Syria, which is currently embroiled in a civil war.