The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Trade Competition Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom are on a mission impossible in Washington.

On Tuesday, President Juncker told the German public broadcaster ZDF that he is “not optimistic” he can reach a substantial trade compromise with the Trump administration.

In his words, President Juncker is in Washington to explain rather than defend the EU position. In an interview with CBS last week, President Trump described the EU as an economic “foe,” using language that is not common in describing the Euro-Atlantic partners.

Departing from Washington’s unilateral tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminium (10%) for reasons on “national security,” there is now an escalating trade war.

The EU has suspended trade talks for as long as tariffs stand, whilst matching US tariffs with countermeasures targeting products that hurt Trump’s electoral base, including motorbikes, bourbon, soya beans and denim jeans.

In turn, the US administration is turning its wrath against European car imports.

The EU has filed complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO), but the Trump administration is threatening withdrawal from the Geneva-based institution. Meanwhile, the President is said to be preparing legislation that would give the President greater scope to impose tariffs without Senate approval and for other than “national security” considerations.

The US Ambassador to Berlin and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is calling on the EU to enter negotiations while US tariffs remain in place. President Juncker’s meeting is the first move towards accommodation, although EU leaders have made clear they are unwilling to negotiate while tariffs stand. Washington seems to be calling for the abolition of all tariff barriers, including on agricultural goods, despite long-standing differences between the sides of the Atlantic on regulatory regimes.

President Trump has linked the role of Washington as a defence guarantor and trade, breaking a political taboo that has endured since the Second World War.