WILL TRUMP MAKE OR BREAK EUROPE?
Trump is consistent on few things beside his disdain for the European Union. Given his notorious lack of information he probably knows little about the EU. Snarling, willfully ignorant, bigoted, perverted, assault inciting, nativist, avaricious and thuggish: Trump is a European’s worst nightmare as American president.
President Trump’s love-in with Nigel Farage could be seen to enfeeble the European Union. Trump perceived Brexit as in some sense foreshadowing his victory. The parallels are not clear. One was a referendum on independence and the other was an election. Both were related to worries about excessive immigration and relied on the votes of white blue collar workers.
The Trump administration has pointed out that European NATO members (besides the UK) do not spend the 2% of GDP that they are legally obliged to. The president wondered aloud whether the United States should leave NATO and recognise Crimea as being part of Russia. This sent a chill wind through the chancelleries of Europe. As usual Trump suddenly retracted these statements. However, Trump has done European countries a favour by reminding them that they ought to spend a decent amount on the military and not always take American backing for granted. What if the USA were to leave NATO? How would Europe be able to stand up to Russia? By provoking these questions Trump has given a complacent continent as salutary wake up call.
The European Union is about free trade and free movement. This is the anti thesis of Trump’s isolationism and his extreme mistrust of foreigners – expect his wives. The EU also stands for human rights and a social floor. Trump has boasted that he would authorise worse than water boarding and that torture works. As a candidate he called for the relatives of terrorists to be killed. Trump’s eagerness to commit crimes against humanity out him at odds with the EU’s values. He is also determined to get Congress to repeal the Affordable Healthcare and Patient Protection Act. Most EU countries have an extensive social insurance scheme. Trump’s callousness and his eagerness to deny healthcare to the poor will horrify most Europeans.
Donald Trump’s Muslim baiting rhetoric and flagrant mendacity will make the EU seems enlightened by comparison. The EU might be boosted because people will see it as a haven of reason and decency compared to ultra aggressive, alarmist Trump’s fortress mentality. Trump is precisely the sort of fork tongued, xenophobic demagogue that the EU is a reaction against.
Trump’s travel ban on people from some Muslim countries coming to the United States has reinforced the perception that the United States is anti Muslim. Europe seems much more welcoming to Muslims and indeed some EU countries have large Muslim minorities. Trump may therefore prove a fillip to the EU. Muslims are more likely to come as tourists, students and business executives to the EU because they cannot travel to the United States.
Trump is tender to Marine Le Pen who is committed to withdrawing France from the EU. Le Pen will probably not win and even if she did it is unlikely that France would pull out of the EU which it helped to found.
The election of Trump tests the strength of the Atlantic relationship. Can it survive a presidency of a man who is so contemptuous of the EU? It is probable that it can. Trump has met several EU leaders and these meetings have not been calamitous. There are many in the American political establishment including Republicans who are aghast at Trump. He is not getting much of his legislative agenda passed. Therefore if he tries to do anything rash that requires the consent of Congress he will probably not get it passed.
Trump is very flighty and constantly contradicts himself. To predict how he will behave is a moonlight steeplechase. Fortunately, the US has mighty institutions and the separation of powers. There is a limit to how much harm he can enact. National security is a fixation for Trump even more than for most presidents. Therefore if he can be convinced that a cordial relationship with the EU is conducive to enhanced national security then he will agree to work in close concert with the EU.
The United States is still co operating with the EU on many issues. The NATO mission in Syria and Iraq is continuing. Trump’s gung ho attitude and ultra Zionism is likely to make him more execrated in the Middle East than any president before him. Trump’s insults against Latin Americans will also alienate that part of the world. His phone call to the Taiwanese president has angered the Chinese. If Trump does not deliver what Putin wants then the Russians will be irate. Trump seldom even mentions Africa. It could turn out that when Trump has infuriated most of the world then Europe is all he has left as a partner.
It must be concluded that Trump has overall damaged the European Union. This will be by no means a fatal blow. Trump represents more of a threat to his own country than any other.