Europe's political leaders wake to reality of Trump win

Implications of victory on Nato and transatlantic foreign policy could be far reaching

The announcement of  Trump’s victory at the US embassy in Brussels early on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP Photo/Laurie Dieffembacq

The announcement of Trump’s victory at the US embassy in Brussels early on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP Photo/Laurie Dieffembacq

 

In the entrance hall of the US embassy in central Brussels there is a portrait of President Barack Obama. As in every other US mission across the world, preparations will be soon be in train to commission a portrait of the 45th president of the United States, Donald J Trump.

The atmosphere at the US embassy election party in Brussels, which began in the early hours of Wednesday, gradually shifted from breezy optimism to silent disbelief. Despite public statements about the strength of EU-US relations regardless of who occupies the White House, privately the mood was unmistakable. People stared incredulously at the giant TV screens running CNN coverage. One American woman was crying.

Across Europe, political leaders woke to a new reality on Wednesday morning. In echoes of June 24th, when the world was faced with Britain’s decision to leave the EU, the political establishment is facing a seismic shift in the post-war global liberal order.

Through his vocal opposition to free trade, promise of American retrenchment on foreign policy and Russian sympathies, Trump threatens to recast the basic tenets of American foreign and economic policy. The singularity of the United States’s position in the world order means the impact of this election will have ramifications far beyond its borders.

For Europe it presents particular challenges. First and foremost, the implications of a Trump victory on the future of Nato and transatlantic foreign policy could be enormous. The president-elect has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the US commitment to the alliance that dates from 1949.

Admittedly, the belief that America has been unfairly assuming too much of the financial burden of sustaining Nato has been a bugbear of many American presidents, including Obama, but Trump has also queried the wisdom of the policy regarding perceived Russian aggression to east European countries, flying in the face of the long-established Nato principle that a threat to one member is a threat to all.

Russian aggression

Vladamir PutinUkraine

With EU sanctions on Russia up for renewal by the end of the year, maintaining a united front on Ukraine is likely to become much more difficult following Trump’s victory.

That EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has invited foreign ministers for a special meeting on EU-US relations on Sunday in Brussels indicates the seriousness with which the EU is taking the election result.

Suggestions that Trump could unpick the Iranian nuclear deal, which was negotiated by the EU among others, and the implications of Trump’s Russian sympathies on Syria are among other foreign policy issues thrown up by the shock win.

On trade, Trump’s imminent installation in the White House is likely to derail the already-flagging transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) between the US and EU.

While a German government spokesman insisted that TTIP is not over, Trump has promised to unravel the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the US and Asia, a move that is likely to be welcomed by China, which was not party to TPP. TTIP now looks increasingly doomed.

On tax, while Trump’s promise to bring US companies home by cutting America’s 35 per cent corporate tax rate could spell trouble for Ireland, it may well be welcomed by other EU countries, which are increasingly resentful of corporate America’s presence in Europe.

Privacy rules

Jack LewEuropean CommissionGoogle

For Europe, fresh from the blow of a state choosing to leave the bloc for the first time, Trump’s victory is another shock to an already fragile union.

In what may be a bitter pill to swallow, the rise of Trump may be good for Britain given that the new president has previously said he would strike a trade deal with Britain if it is outside the EU.

Anything that undermines EU-US relations, which have been a bedrock of international relations since the first World War, is bad news for the EU, which is becoming less economically significant as China, India and emerging market nations prosper.

With Brexit the EU is set to become an even smaller community, one which is struggling with internal tensions. European elections two years ago saw the centre ground give way to a resurgent anti-EU vote, both from the far-right and left.

France, Germany and the Netherlands go to the polls in general elections next year. Many of Europe’s citizens, like those in America, are unhappy with the current political system on offer. Across Europe many mainstream politicians are now wondering if they will be next as traditional political systems and structures break down.

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