Whether Trump likes it or not, the EU will need to figure out where it goes from here, and that probably means ignoring his advice.
2017 is set to be a pivotal year for the troubled EU. There is no doubt about it. Considering the importance of the decades old transatlantic partnership, there are more than enough reasons for the US to be concerned about the future of Europe — and vice versa.
Aside from long-standing political partnerships, the US-EU economic alliance is the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world. Continued investment between the US and EU is one of the major linchpins of the crucial partnership. It is not an insignificant statistic that the US invests three times more in the EU than it does in the largest and most densely populated continent in the world — Asia. Moreover, in 2012 trade between the US and the EU in goods alone (not including crucial services) was worth $650 billion, according to information provided by the Delegation of the European Union to the United States. Custom duties on many products are also, on average, comparatively low which provides the US and EU countries access to wealthy, vibrant markets.
Brexit may, however, be just the tip of the iceberg for the instability of the EU. There is also the threat of a hollow alliance between the US and Europe — that is the elephant in the room concerning me. Euroscepticism goes far beyond Brexit, and President Trump has made his opinions on the EU quite clear, predicting that other countries will follow suit and close the door on the so-called European project. Shortly after the UK democratically voted to leave the EU, Trump was quick to hop onto Twitter to celebrate during a business trip in Scotland. His rhetoric with regards to the EU will no doubt continue to agitate political leaders and europhiles alike who are not only committed to saving the Union, but who are also concerned by the resurgence of Russia under Putin, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, and humanitarian crises caused by conflict and political instability in other parts of the world.
Relations between the US and the EU are likely to be tense in the near future, and it is unpredictable where that will lead. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, recently sent a round robin letter to 27 EU heads of state or government and within the body of the text he stated: “the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation.” Ted Malloch, Trump’s pick for EU Ambassador, has accused the EU of “blatant anti-Americanism”, while asserting that Trump’s preference is to deal with member states on a bilateral basis.
More crises are likely to develop on the continent, and the EU is in much need of reform — without question. As a UK citizen (and soon to be ex-EU citizen), I was not surprised at all by Brexit. I had observed changes in UK voting patterns and growing apathy toward europhile politics long before David Cameron promised a referendum on EU membership. Brexit is just one of many vexing problems facing Europe. Without a shadow of doubt, there has been a surge in support for far right groups and an increase in euroscepticism. Neither of these are false alarms.
The string of terrorist attacks (attributed to or inspired by Daesh) have more than certainly accelerated support for some of Europe’s most extreme right wing groups — who continue to run polemicized political campaigns, spread fake news, and stage protests. Angela Merkel’s political career may very well be in peril, as she continues to face stinging criticism for her open door immigration policy that provided shelter to over one million refugees and migrants in 2015 alone. The backlash against this policy cannot be ignored — especially with the real possibility of Alternative für Deutschland gaining significant protest votes in the German Federal election to be held in September of this year. After twelve years as the Chancellor of Germany, Merkel may be a high profile casualty of what some on the far right are calling a “patriotic spring.”
While the UK is preparing to say au revoir to the EU, all eyes are on the Chancellor of one of Europe’s most powerful countries. Merkel’s recent visit to Poland in early February was more than just significant. Aside from the German Chancellor using the visit as an opportunity to discuss political tensions, it was also an opening for future talks on some of the most pressing issues facing the EU, such as European integration, border security, and the threat of EU collapse.
Despite Law and Justice — the governing party of Poland — often being labeled as eurosceptic, they are not advocating for the country to leave the EU. Poland remains one of the strongest supporters of the institution. For example, according to data published by the Pew Research Center in June 2016, over 70% of Poles support membership of the EU. When this statistic is compared with support (or lack thereof) from other member states, it is clear that European views on the EU vary greatly from country to country. Considering the transformation that Poland has experienced since it joined in 2004, it does not surprise me that there are plenty of Poles who do not want complete dissolution of the institution.
Despite Germany’s political dominance, it is up to all of the remaining members (sans the UK) to save the EU from complete collapse. One of the top priorities that all member states should be embracing is the formulation of a unified foreign policy to bolster its own security operations, while also providing an assured rebuttal of the rhetoric being espoused by extremists on the far right. German and French political leadership during (and following) the refugee crisis of 2015 not only exposed the seriousness of the global humanitarian crisis, but also the gulf of opinion across the continent and the world. While Merkel was arguing the case for the EU’s moral and legal obligation to protect refugees, images of other EU countries erecting anti-immigrant border fences were splashed all over the news and the Internet. At the end of the day, the EU’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS) has lacked the robustness required to cope with the mass movement of refugees since 2015. It is a step in the right direction that the EU has started the process of reforming existing laws, and providing more help to member states coping with irregular migration from conflict-torn countries.
It is too early to predict the future of the EU, but what I do know is that its survival is going to take more than just political will. Not only are there significant political and economic forces at work creating further instability, but also the EU must be seen to be a safeguard against domestic and international terrorism.