Running Out of Allies Trump's Election Triggers Deep Concern in Europe

Trump in the White House, Putin in the Kremlin and Erdogan in Ankara, not to mention right-wing populists at home: The EU is running out of international partners -- at a time when the union itself is facing a historic crisis.

The faces of the future? Putin, Trump and Erdogan
REUTERS; AFP

The faces of the future? Putin, Trump and Erdogan

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The European Union is facing what the Americans like to call a "perfect storm." Russian President Vladimir Putin is pursuing expansionism on the back of violence and propaganda, Turkey is transforming into a dictatorship and populists are driving Britain out of the EU and have risen to power in Poland and Hungary -- and may soon take the reins elsewhere as well.

And now, Donald Trump.

Two days after the US election, Europe finds itself gripped by a mixture of disbelief and desperation, only imperfectly masked by formulaic messages of congratulations sent to Washington. Chancellor Angela Merkel even made her cooperation with Trump dependent on his adherence to fundamental values. A German head of government admonishing a newly elected US president to uphold freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human dignity? Normally such a thing would be the height of impudence.

But almost nothing seems normal these days -- neither in European relations with the US nor elsewhere. Current events in Turkey, for example, would likely be the top issue of concern for the EU if it weren't for Trump's election. With the civil war still raging in Syria, Turkey plays a key role in European security, but the NATO country is sliding toward a dictatorship and the refugee deal with the EU is threatening to collapse. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doing booming business with Putin and even hopes to discuss buying a missile defense system with the Russian president.

Now, another Putin admirer is moving into the White House. The president-elect has praised the Kremlin autocrat several times for the strength of his leadership and has sought to allay suspicions that Putin tried to influence the outcome of US elections -- despite US intelligence agencies' conviction that he did. The fact that Trump has indicated he will demand that European NATO allies pay more for US military protection, and has even called America's own loyalty to the alliance into question, has triggered widespread concern, particularly in Eastern Europe.

Will Trump Reunify Europe?

If European politicians are of a mind to find any kind of silver lining in the election of Donald Trump, then it is the following: Trump could contribute to European unity, even if unwittingly. The problem, after all, isn't just what Trump said during the campaign; at least as concerning is what he didn't say. Thus far, the US president-elect hasn't presented anything that could even remotely be called a coherent foreign policy agenda.

"You're going to see a lot of fear among America's allies," James Goldgeier, a political scientist with American University's School of International Service, told the New York Times. "And in some cases they may try to do something about it." Eastern European countries under threat from Russia, he says, may not be able to wait until Trump presents more precise plans, if indeed he ever does. During the campaign, after all, Trump repeatedly emphasized that unpredictability in foreign and security policy was advantageous.

"Josef Stalin was the first unifier of Europe," says Elmar Brok, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament. "In a certain sense, Trump has the opportunity to be the second." Brok emphasized that Trump couldn't be compared to a mass-murderer like Stalin. "But fear can lead to unity, and in this case, the fear is that America may no longer be there."

Spanish newspapers on Thursday led with Trump.
AFP

Spanish newspapers on Thursday led with Trump.

For European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, that concern has already become reality. "The Americans will not see to Europe's security forever. We have to do it ourselves," he said in a Wednesday evening speech in Berlin. Former US Ambassador to Germany John Kornblum was even more outspoken in an essay published by the German journalism consortium RND. "The American umbrella over Europe is gone forever. Trump's election marks the end of the postwar order."

Juncker is now demanding a "new attempt to implement a European defense union including the goal of establishing a European army." Brok, too, expressed support for the rapid implementation of a French proposal aiming at a defense union.

Daniela Schwarzer of the German Council on Foreign Relations expressed a similar view. Even if Trump won't be able to implement everything that he promised during the campaign, "Germany and Europe can no longer rely as usual on the trans-Atlantic partnership," says Schwarzer. "They must stand up for Western values on their own."

Fear of the Populists

That would be difficult enough even if the European Union were in better shape. But with Britain's departure, the EU is losing its second-largest economy and a country with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Europe's economy remains unstable and right-wing populists are on the rise in France, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany -- and they are already in power in Poland and Hungary. The European Commission believes the same values Merkel admonished Trump to respect are under threat in Poland.

Tuesday's front page of French daily Libération

Tuesday's front page of French daily Libération

Many in Brussels are concerned that the EU is facing the same fate as the US -- namely that Front National leader Marine Le Pen could end up being elected president in France and that Frauke Petry, head of the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany, could even take over the German Chancellery. Such a thing might seem unimaginable, but many thought that Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential elections was unimaginable too.

The anger that many voters feel against government institutions and the establishment, the anger that propelled Trump to the presidency, is also widely present in Europe. But nobody has yet found an answer for how to oppose it. "I don't know whether it will be possible to confront the distrust of Brussels," says Rebecca Harms, floor leader for the Green Party in European Parliament. The skepticism, she adds, isn't just fueled by concerns about having been left behind by globalization, but also by the desire to return to nationalist identity. Left-wing and right-wing ideology is becoming mixed, she says. "At the moment, I am unnerved."

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pwells1066 11/10/2016
1. A hopeful sign
At last a Spiegel correspondent who appears to begin to analyse a problem without the dead hand of a pre-conceived 'Euro Solution' as his sole intellectual tool. His comment vis-a-vis the public "I don't know whether it will be possible to confront the distrust of Brussels," gives an opportunity to question why millions of normal 'thinking' people have lost trust in the structures and politicians associated with Brussels. How many Brexit like events do we need to see before the so-called liberal elite accept that their views towards others are neither liberal nor even tolerant of other views. When will they accept that their stubborn intransigence and insistance on top-down, focus group, group-think Euro-solutions are the only answer to every issue that concerns them? Wow, I got quite carried away with my own rhetoric but anyway, the thought of Junkers et al in a tizzy over Trump has lifted an otherwise dull day.
ewiakryszard 11/10/2016
2. Why Donald Trump won the presidency?
This was the finger of God. Let me remind here a fragment of an ancient vision: "And [the king of the north] will go back (to) his land with great wealth [1945. This detail indicated that Hitler will attack also the Soviet Union and will fight to the bitter end. In the beginning there were no signs of such the ending of this war]; and his heart (will be) against the holy covenant [hostility towards Christians]; and will act [it means activity in the international arena]; and turned back to his own land [1991-1993. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Russian troops returned to their country]. At the appointed time [he] will return back." (Daniel 11:28, 29a) The return of Russia in this context means the breakup of the European Union and NATO. Many countries of the former Eastern block reconciled with Russia. Such is the plan of God. It is no coincidence that Barack Obama wins presidency in 2008 and 2012. God in this way has secured us against a premature world war. The first should be the return of Russia, and then the war, and not vice versa. (Daniel 11:29,30; Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:4; cf. Jeremiah 1:12) The victory Hillary Clinton would very accelerate a nuclear war, therefore now Donald Trump wins presidency. There is hope for improvement in Russian-American relations. The world will be safer, at least for a moment. In 1882 British troops occupied Egypt. Great Britain then took the role of "the king of the south". Around the same time, Russia expanded its influence in the region, which previously belonged to Seleucus I Nicator, and took the role of "the king of the north". (Daniel 11:27) All the details of this vision are being fulfilled from the time of ancient Persia, in chronological order. It is true that this vision is variously interpreted. As one can see, it has a lot of details. Therefore the insightful person is able to detect any error or sophistry. (Daniel 12:10)
bicester55 11/10/2016
3. Brexit had nothing to do with nationalism
Brexit had nothing to do with nationalism. We have little regard for our own institutions. It is just that Brussels is so corrupt/incompetent and beyond reform that anything else must be better. Our own UK Elite shows little concern for British voters but the the Brussels Elite shows no concern for European voters.
Teamaker 11/10/2016
4. Come on Der Spiegel, get your act together!
Come on Der Spiegel, stop panicking! Don't worry, democracy will be around for a long, long time, until something better replaces it. Trump has won a democratic election, so what? Deal with it! The US and UK have been holding democratic elections, in one form or another, for 200 years and more. Dodgy leaders have been elected from time to time, but life goes on! Neither country has crumbled in the mean-time. By the way, you seem to be obsessed with the word "populist", can you please define what you mean by that? We had dreadful Populists in the early 17th century, who wanted universal suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance. Heaven forbid.......!?? You say that "we don't know how to oppose the anger that people feel against government institutions". What??? Has something been lost in translation here? I'm, I suppose a Social Liberal, and I think that if there is anger out there, there's probably a good reason for it, and the reasons must me understood, not opposed. The Brexits, the Donald Trumps are but the symptoms of problems, the solutions to which have not been addressed. The UK will cope with Brexit, and adapt, the US will cope with Trump and adapt. Life goes on.
Inglenda2 11/10/2016
5. Trump may be bad, but are our own leaders better?
The EU leaders we now have are unlikely to find many partners, either within, or outside the organisation. These people are totally unsuitable for the job and symbolize everything which could possibly be wrong in running a co-operative organisation of sovereign states. The marvellous idea of a united Europe has been absolutely ruined by a clique of bureaucratic morons, who are fully unable, or unwilling, to represent the citizens of Europe, but appear to be only interested in their own personal positions of power. Under such circumstances it is quite clear that few democratically minded people, whether inside Europe, or from abroad, find themselves able either to trust, or respect the European commission and those who are responsible for their appointment. History shows that Putin, Trump or Erdogan type autocrats, can only come to power, where democracy has failed. It is very improbable, that governments which are blind to the facts, incompetent and self-important, will be able to convince anybody, with their opinions as to how our world should be run. The clean up should start at home, the sooner the better! Otherwise we may shortly find the time has already run out.
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