Donald Trump As a Mirror for the EU Crisis

Trump’s message of increased national sovereignty and independence has resonated amongst many European leaders.

The post-Perestroika period in the South Caucasus was marked by a flurry of attempts towards integration and closer ties with the international community.

But a quarter of a century has already passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the governments of this region have found themselves faced with the reality of the current crisis of the European Union.

This will force the states of the South Caucasus to consider a new path of integration-oriented politics and to reexamine their roles in such a complicated web of ties.

This concerns Russia’s loyal satellite, Armenia, to a lesser degree, though Armenia, too, concluded a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU in 1996 in order to facilitate the transition to a market economy.

The document encompasses essentially all but the military sphere: socio-economic, trade, legislative, science and education, and information technologies.

And for Azerbaijan, a country interested in cooperation with Europe for economic reasons, and Georgia, which is striving for full political and economic integration with the EU, it is not merely a rhetorical question to ask “what is taking place at present in the European Union?”

The European Union’s immersion in an even deeper internal crisis means that the potential and conditions for integration are not entirely clear.

But it’s also not possible to shut oneself off from Europe. The integration achieved over the past decade is too strong.

March 2017 will mark the 60


anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the basis for the European Union. Some compare this anniversary to the celebration of the forty-year anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which was celebrated in East Berlin in October, 1989.

And in making this comparison, they recall that the GDR collapsed a year later. Today, the European Union is in a crisis created by tension, conflicts and contradictions which have split the political elite of the majority of European countries.

Former French Minister of Foreign Affairs Michel Barnier expressed the opinion that the unification of Europe, “is a slow and complex process, because complexity is the price to pay so that Europe might be united without being uniform”.

Beginning with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950, the integration process was seen in post-war Europe as a means for putting down militaristic attitudes and as a path to uniting the countries’ economic potential in order to cope withbreakdown.

It cannot be said that this intention was unsuccessful, but today’s contradictions have revealed an insufficient level of agreement between European politicians. The indisputable achievements of the EU are a united market, a common space for 500 million citizen-consumers with common industrial standards, food safety and ecological laws, and the free movement of commodities, people, services, and capital. 22 million businesses are operating in an ever-more uniform sphere of regulations. But at the same time, the governments of the EU are striving to retain their national identities, languages, cultures, and educational and judicial systems.

Experts believe that Europe’s weakness is that, when it makes strategic decisions on cooperation and integration, the EU doesn’t see them through. For example, the impossibility of creating a currency union without an economic and budgetary union. The common currency ensured cheap and large-scale loans, but cooperation wasn’t established in the economic, tax and social spheres. And indeed, while eliminating borders under the framework of the Schengen Zone and in enabling the free movement of people, they failed to ensure the security of external borders.

But Euro-skeptics, who chastise Europe for these shortcomings, in parallel raise opposition to further leveling in construction in Europe. One can often hear critiques that tax competition is too strong in Europe.

But these same critics demand tax sovereignty, which, in principle, contradicts efforts to establish a common denominator for tax collections. One of the real weaknesses of the united market is the varied competitive advantage of member-countries on the level of wages, social norms, and also social security systems.

Perhaps the experts are right to think that the EU is expanding too quickly.

There is an ever-more-noticeable gap between the economically powerful northern countries and the southern regions of the Eurozone. The European Union is examining the possibility of introducing a system of ‘multi-layered integration’, accounting for the differences in member countries’ economic potential.

But one way or another, the present crisis developed in the variegated environment of the European countries, which shows itself in the European currency, among other things. It is impossible to maintain a stable currency exchange rate among countries with varying potential.

According to forecasting from Deutsche Bank, the euro may fall to 85 cents to the USD by autumn. The problem is making financial markets serve the real economy and not major European Concerns. Clearly this is connected with the sudden decision by Swiss bankers in January, 2015 to sever the ties between their franc and the European currency, even at the cost of an instantaneous loss of 415 billion euros.

Euro-skeptics believe that the EU will exist so long as its primary leader – Germany – is growing stronger with the support of the USA at the expense of the industrially, less-developed states of the EU.

From their point of view, countries of the EU lacking industry were able to increase their standard of living only based on credit – this enriched German banks, among others.

This led to the situation in Greece.

But the primary reason for the EU crisis is problems in the social sphere and a deep divide between the masses and the establishment, the political elite. And here the new American administration is also critiquing the principles on which united Europe has been built.

President Trump’s statements have made it clear that the EU can no longer expect support from the USA – especially when he believes that other countries should follow the UK’s lead and leave the European Union, which Trump considers a tool for achieving the goals of Germany, whose chancellor, Angela Merkel, committed a ‘catastrophic mistake’ when she opened the borders to refugees.

Donald Trump declares that the EU was established in part to surpass the USA in trade, and that he doesn’t care how united or divided the European Union is. Naturally, Trump’s statements have been music to the ears of Euro-skeptics throughout Europe.

Marine Le Pen stated that France should also ask the people about their attitudes towards the European Union, and even Turkish leader Recep Erdoğan promised to hold a referendum on the advisability of continuing negotiations for EU membership for Turkey.

It must be said that there are many in the USA dissatisfied with Trump’s policies regarding Europe. A clear indicator of this is the resignation of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland. She skillfully handled relations not only with Europe, but with Russia as well. Aside from Nuland, several other career diplomats also left the US foreign service: the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, Gregory Starr, the Under Secretary of State for Management, Patrick Kennedy, and Assistant Secretaries of State Joyce Barr and Michele Bond.

But these resignations are nothing in comparison with the reaction in Europe. The President of France, Francois Hollande, stated that Europe ‘doesn’t need outside advice” and “will make decisions guided by its interests and values”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose position has already been made tenuous by the problem of Syrian refugees, replied to Trump that the fate of Europe should be decided by Europeans themselves. She was supported by the outgoing president of Germany, Joachim Gauck, who said that the time had come for European countries and Germany in particular, which for many years followed the lead of the United States, to become more independent.

And the head of the German Social Democrats and Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, criticized the foreign policy of the USA, which in his words has led to the destabilization of the Middle East and given rise to that very same migrant crisis, the repercussions of which are being absorbed by Germany and the whole of Europe.

In response to Trump’s threat to introduce a 35% tax for German car manufacturers and his accusations that Germany sells more automobiles in the USA than it buys from America, Gabriel suggested that the USA produce better cars. And the weekly publication

Die Zeit

published a report stating that the EU should prepare for a trade war with the USA. And, clearly by pure accident, the World Economic Forum in Davos this past January chose ‘Responsive and Responsible Leadership’ as its theme.

European politicians’ dissatisfaction with Trump’s politics were summarized during the February visit to Washington by Federica Mogherini, Italy’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and the current High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

She directly advised the administration not to meddle in European politics and to concentrate on the USA’s internal problems. Mogherini declared that she had sometimes heard statements suggesting that there is no obligation to consider the EU a good idea, but didn’t say that someone had spoken with her about this directly.

She asserted the necessity of respect for the EU not only as an institution, but as a union of 28 member-states, and also took advantage of the opportunity to bring up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit as the president’s first foreign guest, who was promised an advantageous trade deal, even though the UK doesn’t have the right to independently engage in negotiations until after it has left the EU.

It goes without saying that Trump’s politics have given rise to serious concern, and that criticizing him has become a sign of good manners in Europe. But it is not Trump who caused the crisis, which began long before the US elections. Brexit, the crisis of the euro, state debt, the refugee crisis, tensions in relations between the East and West, and also between the northern and southern regions of the EU, the energization of right-wing and nationalist parties, underlying social tensions when one in ten people in Europe is officially unemployed: all this is to blame, not Trump.

Everyone understands that the European Union needs serious institutional transformations. But so far, nobody can bring themselves to make these cardinal changes.

But sooner or later the model of European integration will have to be remade. Perhaps the Euro-skeptics striving to retain their national identities and sovereignty need to be asked whether or not they want to remain at the table where the world order is decided, and acknowledge that defending the national interest can no longer be restricted exclusively to the national level. All the more so because it is precisely the EU which brought into existence a unique project for liberalization and market integration, which was opposed, by the way, by national governments and monopolies.

The crisis might transfigure and strengthen integration. Up to the present moment, all the crises Europe has encountered on its path have strengthened it, but the start of an irreversible dismantling of European unity is also possible. The future of the South Caucasus states, including Azerbaijan with its reliance on oil supply to Europe, will to a large extent depend on this.

Tamaz Papuashvili, PhD


Editor: This article reflects the opinion of the author and as such may not reflect the opinion of Meydan TV.

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