Have U.S.-Europe Relations Changed Forever?
This article first appeared in Les Echos.
PARIS — The 2008 financial crisis had forced the European Union and the eurozone to fire back with a new artillery of budgetary and banking mechanisms. "Economic Europe" thus moved further toward integration. The current geopolitical situation will lead it to do the same, in the face of a new emergency, regarding defense policy. Donald Trump's statements against NATO have convinced Europeans of the need to take action on its own when it comes to security and financial policy. And since things are moving very quickly these days, these actions will be put to the test right away.
The recent spike in violence in Ukraine around the city of Avdiivka, located just north of Donetsk, on the frontline in the eastern part of the country, are the first test laid down by Vladimir Putin for Donald Trump's policy of isolationism. NATO military officials are issuing calls for a response. What will the new American president do against the Kremlin's first provocation? And what will Europeans say in the face of this new battle over territory?
The minimum 2% of GDP spent on defense required by NATO has quickly become a sort of "reverse Maastricht." All European countries will have to fulfill this requirement very quickly, starting with Germany. But many more decisions in favor of "integration" will be needed. Everything will have to be put on the table, including the conditions for the French atomic bomb — the only one on the continent — to become the EU's atomic bomb.
Still, this military advance won't suffice, given the new international context. Ahead of the Feb. 3 informal EU summit in Malta, another Donald, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, sent a letter to European heads of state and governments in which he placed Trump's America on the same level as "China, Russia or radical Islam."
Tusk wrote, "For the first time in our history, in an increasingly multipolar external world, so many are becoming openly anti-European."
This Donald is right. Never in the last 70 years has the United States been opposed to construction of a more united Europe. There have been trade disputes, diplomatic differences, personal discords, but never a hostility in principle. On the contrary, Washington always found that a strong Europe was in its own interest: First, as an ally against the USSR; then, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, through a natural alliance between two partners who shared the same democratic values, the defense of free trade and the same vision of the world.
Donald Trump is the first American president to openly be against a united Europe. It's a historical change. Why has he adopted this stance? His haphazard nature makes this question hard to answer. But there is little doubt that he detests this complicated supranational construction, this multilateral system in which small countries have their say just as big countries do. No doubt is it also because he sees Europe as a competitor. Trump is the first president not to reason like a head of state, but like the head of a company that he was and still is. In his "America First," all other countries are competitors that need to be defeated, starting with the two biggest, China and Europe.
It didn't take him long to start attacking Europe. Trump declared NATO, the pillar of Atlantic defense, "obsolete." He denounced the nuclear deal with Iran, forged with the Europeans. He denounced the Paris climate change accords. By decree, he also has effectively put an end to the negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). He praised the Brexit victory and received Theresa May to encourage the EU's dismantling.
Finally, though this list will surely grow longer in the weeks and months ahead, he criticized Germany, which he holds, in his simplistic conception, to be the sole leader in Europe: Angela Merkel's Germany, which welcomes refugees when he bans them, which manipulates the euro for the currency to be weak and to sell BMWs to America in place of Chevrolets — which is part of why the Americans' third widest trade deficit, behind that with China and Mexico, is with Europe.
Targeting Germany is not necessarily a fool's game. The new White House trade chief Peter Navarro denounced the euro as an implicit Deutsche Mark that favors German exports not only to America, but also to other European countries. The argument of an egoistic Germany has an audience on this side of the Atlantic too. Trump is denting the continent's unity.
Europe no longer has friends. It stands against empires, "nationalist" powers that are of a nature opposed to its own. The fight's scope is new because this fight is existential: What will survive the 21st century?
Yesterday's multilateral Europe should quickly equip itself to become a European power, with a set of tools that go beyond just defense. Is that realistic? The timing is unfavorable, with elections later this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, likely to prevent any major initiative.
More importantly, the debate over a united Europe revolves, as we've seen during the British referendum, around small arguments. Unfortunately, if it continues, this will eventually lead us towards European disintegration. Exterior enemies are joined by the masses of interior opponents, who lament all the efforts that a "bad Europe" requires, from high taxes to too many regulations on cheese. Trump, Xi and Putin must be laughing as they watch a continent exiting history.