Donald Trump and a Timid European Union
It is time to stop pretending that the election of Donald Trump is business as usual for the European Union.
Obviously, the United States and Europe have always had a complicated and fluctuating relationship. But Trump is not just another Republican President. His far right populism is a genuine threat in a way that we have not seen in the past fifty years.
He feels an obvious and open kinship with his fellow authoritarian Putin, even speaking favourably of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He has torn up American membership in the Paris agreement on climate change, making clear that he considers short term US interests far more important than the long term future of the world. He has talked about unilaterally cancelling America’s NATO commitments on several occasions. He has made his utter contempt and hostility for the European Union abundantly clear.
Equally worrying is the fact that he has emboldened the very worst elements in European politics. Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, Heinz-Christian Strache in Austria, all of these far right figures have applauded the rise of Trump. The invigorating effect Trump has had on the fascist movement would be worrying enough if it was confined to the United States, but it is clear that the results of his flirtation with the far right are being felt everywhere.
And his role in international democracy is nothing short of terrifying. With a regime like North Korea careful and delicate handling is required. Instead Trump has spent his time hurling personal insults around on Twitter. And what has the European Union done about this? Very little. At first it seemed like they might have actually found some courage. Donald Tusk described Trump correctly, as an existential threat to Europe. Since then, he’s spent his time backing down, describing himself as “hopeful” that relations with Trump will be good.
And he was the best of the Eurocrats. When Trump brought in his objectively racist immigration proposals Berlin and Paris tutted disapprovingly under their breaths. They were surpassed by Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary who all stayed silent in an attempt to appease their own nationalist movements.
And Trump apologists like the German Marshall Fund made it very clear their only concern was to keep good relations with the president regardless of the cost. Not good enough. We need the European Union to show at least half the firmness it was prepared to show when punishing the people of Greece for daring to elect an anti-austerity government.
We Europe to stand clear and draw a firm line in the sand. To say that Trump and European values are opposed. To condemn Trump’s stoking of far right fires, not ignore it.
Because the real irony here is that Trump is the most unpopular president in American history. Many Americans would applaud the European Union if it dared to take a moral stand on this issue. Because to do so is not only in the best interest of the citizens of Europe, but of the majority of Americans as well. We should recognize it is the other side of America, the tolerant free thinking side, who are Europe’s natural allies. And they will not forget if we continue to fail them.