The American President’s speech, following his taking the oath of office, will have shocked and frightened a large swathe of American public opinion and to a far greater extent Europe’s! It calls for an immediate answer without any complaisance because, in the face of the slogan “America first”, the only possible answer is the assertion of a European Union fully prepared to defend its own interests.
Undoubtedly we will need to apply to ourselves some of the shock recipes enumerated by Trump: protect citizens interests rather than those of the political, media and financial oligarchies, reinforce our military capabilities, deal from a position of equality (if not strength) and devoid of any complex with our partners etc.
Let us harbour no illusions: the American President has clearly confirmed his disdain for the EU, already expressed previously by deriding some of its Members and leaders, with the obvious aim of “dividing in order to reign”. We have neither the time to “evaluate how he will implement his programme”, neither the luxury to be distracted by our own electoral calendar, however important it may be; above all we should not find any solace in the fact that “it will only last four years”!
It should not be an invitation to embark in any type of “primary anti-Americanism” but, on the contrary, to position ourselves radically on the side of the 60% of Americans who disapprove of their new President. Solidarity with the United States has been the key to peace and prosperity in the western world since WWII. Its preservation is the necessary guarantee to be able to reform the Union, reinforce our democracy and protect our freedom.
We must deal from a position of strength so as to take our destiny in our own hands and find, in the challenge laid down by Trump, the opportunity to overcome our own petty squabbles. In particular, let us avoid allowing an inexperienced Administration to settle in comfortably, reinforcing its belief that it is the sole master of events.
Let us show ourselves the same sense of purpose and unity that Trump boasts of restoring in the United States, by protecting the external borders of the EU, both militarily and economically, accepting the financial sacrifices it implies, the cost of which will be far less than being bullied by the strongest.
A major political initiative must be undertaken forthwith: Brexit must be immediately reconsidered justified by the occurrence of totally new circumstances; Art. 50 has not yet been invoked so that it can be achieved by a unilateral declaration by the United Kingdom. Simultaneously, the EU 28 should announce an accelerated reform of the Treaty in order to meet Trump’s challenge and insure the EU’s own survival.
No partisan of Brexit can defend in good faith that the United Kingdom can simultaneously cut itself off from the Single Market and the United States. PM May as well as her Chancellor of the Exchequer reiterated in Davos that it was in the U.K’s interest that the EU be successful. This proposal is incompatible with Trump’s intents; neither is resorting to the threat of an Anglo-American deal on the back of the Union an alternative, because the success of Brexit is predicated on a reinforced Union.
In the coming days and weeks it is essential for the Union to keep the initiative and accelerate its integration process. It is crystal clear that failing to take advantage of these exceptional circumstances, which are unlikely to be repeated, the dismemberment of the EU will become inescapable. This scenario would take us back to the dramas of the 1930’s. We can prevent it! We can no longer dither!
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Advisory Board of the Thomas More Institute, Member of the Advisory Board of Stand Up for Europe