Ever since the election of US President Donald Trump, Europe has been baffled on how to deal with his statements, tweets or policies. We continue to see increasing disbelief of his actions, often followed by a barrage of condemnation and statements from politicians on this side of the Atlantic, especially European Union officials. Christos Mouzeviris is analysing a decisive moment for Europe and how it should respond.
One of the Trump administration’s first major actions was to start a de facto trade war with Europe along with China and Canada, two of which are the USA’s oldest and closest partners. President Trump has repeatedly accused Europe of not contributing enough into the NATO budget, famously attacking the “free riding” members of the alliance, notably from Eastern Europe. During his recent visit to Europe and before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump even referred to Europe as a “foe” of America on trade terms whilst conveniently forgetting perhaps that he instigated this trade war by imposing higher tariffs on European steel imports.
During his visit to the United Kingdom, the British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed that Trump had actually advised her to sue the EU over Brexit, as well as trying to interfere in internal British politics by showing support for May’s opponent, Boris Johnson. Most likely, this was a very tactical threat to May in order to convince her to follow his instructions as he pushed her for a hard Brexit. Trump stated that a “soft” exit of the UK from the EU could kill any future trade deals with the US. Clearly this is what his administration wants in order to continue their “special relationship” with the UK but also makes it clearly evident the administration’s plans towards the EU, Europe and Britain itself.
In other words, if the UK wants out, America will only take it under its wing if it opts for a hard Brexit, thus cutting most ties with Europe. Something that is downright scary and for many in British society and leadership, not an option. Perhaps Donald Trump is offering a road-map to Theresa May and her European counterparts on how to proceed with this disaster and the terms on which they would offer to Britain the much needed trade deal.
And while many Europeans and Americans remain stunned in disbelief, accusing the US President of damaging the EU-US relations and even treason , Trump is doing exactly what he promised during his election campaign; changing the game rules in global, American and Euro-Atlantic politics.
Are we still sure that Vladimir Putin is the greatest threat to our continent, or that the Russian President is the only one to be blamed for the new reality dawning on Europe? Our problem now is not Donald Trump personally, but how will the continent adapt to this challenge. Trump is making his intentions crystal clear to European leaders and the rest of the world which is a very bold, brand new world order. We could either passively accept what he plans to do, follow his example and become more protectionists like the USA, or stick to our interests and carve out a new path for our continent by creating new alliances, trade deals and a military union for our protection.
To be honest, it is not all bad and providing we play our cards right, this could be very beneficial for Europeans. Europe, and the EU should not necessarily be afraid of a closer Trump-Putin cooperation, unless what they aim for is the division of the continent once again. If only the previous US-USSR leaders have met more often to talk, it could saved us decades of cold war, hostilities and arms expenditures.
The problem is that we don’t exactly know what they have agreed on during their two hour meeting in Helsinki, especially regarding The Ukraine, NATO, the EU or Europe and the EU’s future plans for expansion and deeper integration. But even if our worse fears become reality, we could still resist their plans by showing solidarity and proceeding with our own agenda of further unification. There is strength in unity and this could be Europe’s biggest advantage. The Eastern member states could find the support they need against the “threat” from Russia in an ever closer union but only of course if both they and their western counterparts are able to agree on it. But it could prove difficult to be weaned off American money and investments in exchange for NATO missiles. The old EU nations have a different type of addiction to US support, yet it appears that it is all about to change.
President Trump showed his cards to us openly when he called for more contributions in the NATO budget by European member states in favour of America’s continued protection. He is giving Europe an ultimatum -either Europe ups its game and take more responsibilities, or it is time to grow up and proceed with plans for a Euro-Army, relying at last on its own resources for protection and foreign policy adoption. Naturally there are too many players that will lose out from Trump’s new direction of US policies, most notably the arms industry of the US and other European nations. And Europe’s governments will be forced at last to either contribute more in the NATO budget, or allow the creation of a European Army.
In either scenario, NATO member states will have to spend more money on defence and that does not go down too well. Hence all the current barrage of anti-Trump articles and hysteria. We have got to understand that we are entering a new era of politics and status-quo on the globe. Alliances with the US are being altered and although this may feel scary, it shouldn’t necessarily be a disaster. America is looking at its own interests first. Perhaps it is tired of being the policeman of this world and it is time to look after its own people.
If Donald Trump is looking for better relations with Russia, then so should we. The US administration is focusing in new directions for investments and new partners, notably in Asia and Africa and this is also something that Europe should continue to do. The recent trade agreements the EU has signed with China, Japan and Canada is a very encouraging sign that Europe is finally moving in the right direction. It may hurt that Europe is no longer the centre of American foreign policy’s attention but if it ever wants to have a voice and play a bigger role in this world, Europeans need to finally accept that they must stand up, safeguard, promote and complete what has already been established; a common market, an integrated economy, an open society, a single currency with borders.
Russia would be a fool to want to destroy such a rich and diverse market at its doorstep which is also its biggest trade partner and importer of oil and gas. The US on the other hand would not risk destroying the Western alliance of countries that for decades, has led, nurtured, defended and promoted. So is it just time that we got our act together and start fending for ourselves? And Donald Trump, in a tactless, arrogant and incomprehensible manner, is pushing us towards that goal. The world is going to be a multi-polar one in the future, hopefully a more equal one, with many new players and blocks arising from the developing countries and regions.
Europe can only be relevant if it decides to unite and seek to promote its interests by itself. The new American administration under Trump, if it succeeds in its goal, could give our continent the motivation it was lacking all these years to complete unification. Donald Trump may be all that his opponents declare; an arrogant, ignorant politician, unfit for the role of the President of the United States. Or it could be a very bold man with a different vision, which he has trouble expressing, communicating or promoting in a more acceptable and politically correct manner.
However, he might become exactly what Europe needs in order to change and move on to the next phase in its history and political reality; that of a united Europe.