The “Hour of Europe” or the EU running for cover

Upon the breakout of the Yugoslavian civil war, the EU succeeded in brokering a ceasefire in Slovenia and proudly proclaimed that the “Hour of Europe” had arrived. This was somewhat premature. It took years before peace in former Yugoslavia was ensured, and not least the intervention of “the greatest European power – the USA”. The election of President Trump threatens to bring to an end those moments when the US and the EU worked closely together to ensure peace and prosperity in the world.

Heads of states and government in Europe in their post-election messages stressed their willingness to continue close transatlantic cooperation. But, behind the official pronouncements, deep concern exists about the consequences of the American election.

There is the immediate danger of contagion in forthcoming elections or referenda in Austria, Italy, Holland, the Czech Republic, France and Germany. Everywhere protest parties are playing the same tune as Trump, promising to fight against immigration, globalization and growing inequality. If they succeed in turning the tide in Europe and echoing BREXIT and Trump, the hour is indeed grave. Fortunately, however, there’s also a likely scenario of electoral failure for these forces in the most important European states.

Many hope that, in office, Trump will put the election pledges aside and let reason prevail. But a number of his promises – especially those that worry the Europeans – have been made so often and so bluntly it seems impossible for him to go completely into reverse. We as Europeans must prepare ourselves for key parts of Trump’s programme to be implemented and draw the consequences. It would be suicidal in this situation simply to run for cover. We have to prove that the “Hour of Europe” has come in various policy areas.

Security policy and NATO will come under pressure. Trump’s demands for massive European investment in defence as a condition for a US security guarantee in NATO is not the usual song about reaching at least 2% of GDP on defence spending. The message is that Europe must defend itself, or pay the full bill for US military engagement in Europe. This cannot be honoured unless the effectiveness of Europe’s overall defence spending improves markedly. Here the plans for upgrading EU’s defence dimension comes into view; It should not be a vision of a European army – NATO will also in the future be the most important show in town – but practical steps towards enhanced cooperation and burden-sharing between EU member states and joint development and purchase of modern equipment.

Trump is an admirer of  strong men like Putin. The horror scenario is that he – over the heads of us Europeans – agrees with Putin on a new security structure in Europe, dividing the continent into areas of interest, where the Americans (and NATO) keep their hands off Eastern Europe in return for increased Russia-US cooperation, for instance in the fight against ISIS.

Ukraine and the Baltic States have good reason to be deeply worried. The outcome of recent elections in Moldova and Bulgaria with the strengthening of pro-Russian forces could not have come at a worst time.

Close cooperation between the EU and the USA in Ukraine has so far stopped further Russian destabilization. Unless the EU maintains the line – even without the US – there is a serious risk of collapse of the reform process, that is finally under way. Europe has vital security interests in Eastern Europe. It is Europe that will be affected by unrest there, including new waves of refugees.

President Trump will strengthen protectionism. Election promises of tariff protection of 30-50% against countries such as Mexico or China will probably be blocked by Congress and the American business community. Former industrial workers in the Midwest cannot in practice take over production that today is outsourced to Mexico and China.  But even with brakes in the system, Trump’s USA will become more inward-looking. The major market-opening projects in the Pacific Rim (TPP) and most likely also the transatlantic project -TTIP- risk being shelved or at least frozen for a long time. The North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) is in danger of being rolled back.

Under no circumstances should Europe follow the same path.  We should be ahead of the curve and ready to engage, where the US withdraws. This is particularly relevant for countries such as South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada and South America. The EU has completed or is negotiating comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with all of these. It is therefore essential that it finds its legs on trade policy after the recent CETA chaos.

Climate is perhaps the most important area where Europe must follow  a different path from that sketched out by the President-elect. While Trump denies climate change and is ready to pull out of the Paris Agreement, the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction. China has now changed course after experiencing for real what climate change means. The EU must maintain a lead and prevent a climate disaster – and benefit from the huge economic gains flowing from the green agenda – while the Americans dig coal in Wyoming.

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