November 14, 2016
The populists are winning
The European response to anything these days are meetings and grand pronouncements but no action. Frank-Walter Steinmeier had hoped to repeat the little stunt he pulled off after the Brexit vote with an emergency foreign ministers' meeting, but this time, both the UK, and notably France, boycotted last night's dinner, and the symbolism is now reversed. The EU shows the outside world that its reaction to the Trump vote is one of division, as opposed to "sending a signal of what the EU expects" of Trump, as the FT quoted one unnamed diplomat. Boris Johnson's decision not to attend received much publicity over the weekend, while Jean-Marc Ayrault stayed in Paris to meet Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato general secretary. The Hungarians also missed the meeting, which they described as hysterical. The article quoted a diplomat as saying: "When the EU’s most powerful country wants to lead, other member states don’t necessarily follow." What this means is that we have long reached the limits of what an inter-government system can do. Huffing and puffing won't extend them.
Meanwhile, team Trump are already doing their best to highlight Europe's divisions. Apart from Nigel Farage's little PR stunt as the first European politician to visit Trump, a story circulated over the weekend that Trump's newly appointed special adviser Stephen Bannon, a white supremacist, had reached out to Marine Le Pen. We noted a tweet by Le Pen's niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who tweeted yesterday:
"I answer yes to the invitation of Stephen Bannon...to work together."
There was some confusion about whether or when this invitation was made though.
There was further criticism of the decision by Andrew Marr of the BBC to interview Marine Le Pen on Armistice day (we are with the BBC on this - she is a serious contender for the French presidency, and it would be mistaken for the rest of us to pretend that this isn't so). In this interview, Le Pen reiterated her determination for France to leave the EU, which she said should not last "two minutes longer", and said there was not a hair's breadth between the FN and Ukip. She said her main foreign policy objective was to make the EU less reliant on the US and more open towards Russia.
The impact of Trump on Italy is more complicated as this article points out. Italy's right is highly divided. While the Five Star Movement is best placed to capture the anti-establishment vote, especially in a straight run-off with the Partito Democratico, support for Trump is, however, low within that party. It is therefore not all clear how a surge in Trump support would pan out in the Italian political system.
Timothy Garten-Ash had a good comment in which he describes big ideological shifts as requiring time to work themselves out.
"Does history teach us anything about such wave-like phenomena, appearing at roughly the same time in many places, in different national and regional forms, but nonetheless having common features? Nationalist populism now, globalised liberalism (or neoliberalism) in the 1990s, fascism and communism in the 1930s and 40s, imperialism in the 19th century. Two lessons perhaps: that these things usually take a significant period of time to work themselves out; and that to reverse them (if the wave is of a kind you want to see reversed) requires courage, determination, consistency, the development of a new political language and new policy answers to real problems."
We disagree, however, with his conclusion, that Angela Merkel is now the leader of the free world. How can that be, we wonder, when she didn't even manage to provide leadership during the eurozone crisis as she prioritised German national interests? Ulrich Speck (@ulrichspeck) agrees in a tweet this morning:
“Merkel cannot be Europe's leader. What she can do is to keep German foreign policy Europeanized and to broker compromises on EU level."
In a comment for NRC, Caroline de Gruyter reports that at a recent security conference in Warsaw delegates were concerned about the prospect of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin redrawing and mutually recognising their spheres of influence, with echoes of Yalta but without British participation. The scenario reflects the fear of former Russian satellites that the US may be willing to let them fall again under Russian control. But the concern was not universal. According to De Gruyter Hungary is more concerned about the threat of refugees. EU states disagree on almost all matters, and in particular they cannot find agreement on how they should respond to the possibility of losing the military backstop of the US. Leadership in this area too may fall by default on a reluctant Germany, as the UK is withdrawing from the EU and France and Italy become more inward-looking. De Gruyter concludes with the thought that the EU needs to answer the question of how to organise its own defence. Otherwise it will be every country for itself, without the US coming to pick up the pieces.