View From Brussels: Glum Views In The Corridors Of Power
Rikard Jozwiak November 09, 2016
BRUSSELS -- In the months leading up to Donald Trump's victory in the November 8 presidential election in the United States, not a single European diplomat, civil servant, or politician from the EU or NATO that I spoke to welcomed the notion of a Trump presidency.
Perhaps it was simply the easiest option in light of polling and other indications -- dubious, in retrospect -- that the race was gravitating toward the better-known quantity embodied by his rival, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But even now that the results from America are in, individuals I talked with in Brussels early on November 9 from various countries and administrations seemed intransigent.
If the Brexit vote in June left EU insiders worried about the future, Trump's win has them shell-shocked.
I have heard old standbys like "That is democracy, we have to respect it" and "We are ready to work with any American administration." But many of those same people also privately expressed concern about the West as a political concept and the course -- or even survival -- of the European Union.
One EU diplomat put it to me this morning: "If Brexit is possible, if Trump is possible, then [French National Front leader Marine] Le Pen is possible." If right-wing populism wins the day in French elections in the spring, the diplomat's thinking goes, the half-century-old European Union is in deep trouble. Britain leaving the EU is one thing; that country was in many ways always a semidetached member of the bloc. But France is a founding EU member and, together with Germany, a driving force in the whole project.
Le Pen could win the first round of voting, but polls predict she would lose the runoff to a likely center-right candidate. But as a NATO official just recently pointed out: "It's clear that polls can't be trusted any longer."
A more senior EU official suggested to me half-jokingly a few days ago that "Europe already have little Trumps in the family." It was an allusion to Hungary's populist and increasingly nationalistic Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Poland's reputed leader behind the scenes, ex-Prime Minister and conservative Law and Justice party Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski. "They are a pain," the official added, "but in the end, you can deal with them."
The problem now, in the eyes of such officials in Brussels, is a perceived absence of strong Western leaders to fall back on. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity seemingly dented by her approach to the migration crisis, Britain ostensibly on its way out of the EU, and France uncertain of its course, their fear is that populists can suddenly roam more free and inflict greater damage on the European ideal.
There are concerns apart from possible existential ones within the EU and NATO architectures.
Trump has criticized the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiated and signed between the EU and United States but not yet ratified, and EU Commission officials said postelection that it is likely dead. A Nordic diplomat worried aloud about major climate deals including the landmark Paris Agreement to curb emissions worldwide. Russia hawks fret that Western sanctions against Moscow over its actions in Ukraine will be allowed to expire even before Trump takes office in January, as doves like Italy and Cyprus press their case with a less forceful counterargument coming from Washington.
However, the biggest shock might have been expressed among envoys in Brussels from the EU's and NATO's easternmost states, who fear -- based on Trump's suggestion that military support for NATO allies could be contingent on their defense payments -- that the Unites States might not come to their aid if Russia decides to meddle in the Baltic states or Poland, as it has done in Ukraine. Some officials suggested that while European defense spending and cooperation might get a boost from Trump's stunning win, that is unlikely to calm officials in Warsaw and Vilnius.
The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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