In the aftermath of the electoral victory of Donald Trump at the US Presidency, a lot has been said and written about the future of the US – EU relations. The last “uneven” encounter of Donald Trump with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, gave us just another hint of the US President’s attitude and plans towards Europe.
From calling Brussels capital a terrorist “hell hole”, to renewing the US and the UK relationship after the latter’s decision to leave EU, it has become more than clear that the new leader of the free world has come to shake things up with unforeseen consequences for both continents. The EU Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker, in a recent interview, warned President Trump to stop his anti-EU rhetorics such as inviting other countries to follow Britain’s example as this could lead to war in the Balkans, adding that “it’s first time in history we have an American President who is not interested in european affairs”.
Don’t underestimate Europe’s potential
Yet, we shouldn’t underestimate Europe’s rich culture, political heritage and established values.
The latest electoral events in Netherlands and before that in Austria resulted in both countries choosing pro-european leaders opposed to islamophobic and eurosceptic conservative parties. This counts as the triumph of hope over fear; of democracy over populism. The last word though remain to be said by France and Germany, both countries holding elections in the upcoming months. Marine Le Pen’s possible victory seems less doubtful than some time ago, yet France’s political legacy and democratic culture is more possible to prevail on the second round of the elections which will finally determine the winner.
A supposed Le Pen electoral predominance means a referendum on France leaving EU and specific measures regarding migration and even a blanket ban just like Trump did in the USA. Germany, whether under an Angela Merkel leadership or Martin Schulz on the wheel, will continue on its pro-european path rather than bring challenging times for the Union. And the UK, after having triggered Article 50, marks a new era not only for the Britain’ s future, both domestically and internationally, but also for the European Union, which few days ago, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. That date initiated the beginning of the longest peace and prosperity period of time in the continent, after the disastrous 2nd World War. Despite the diamond jubilee though, it’s time to start reflecting on the events of the last decade which revealed the fragility of the otherwise noble European Union project.
Key challenges remain
The greek financial crisis, began in 2009, and lead the country to extreme poverty, by exhausting its international credibility, draining its sources and risking its position in the eurozone. The way that its bailout program was conducted showed the rather shadow side of the Union, guided mainly by Germany’s purpose in punishing rather than stabilising the country. Furthermore, there appeared a lack of will from the rest of the member states to express solidarity instead of obedience.
The refugee crisis which culminated in the summer of 2015 with thousands of Syrians fleeing the horror of civil war and the atrocities committed by their own government, the Islamic State and the rebels, revealed the weakness and inability of Europe to act unanimously. This has left Greece and Italy dealing alone with the refugee influx. Within the temporary borders and fences of the “new” EU, political rhetorics grew stronger in favour of populism and fear. This has resulted in the “leave-EU” campaign in the United Kingdom.
Europe’s progressive, prosperous and peaceful present is not the result of a linear and flowery path but rather a “bloody” project forged by conflicts, wars, and colonialism. Racism, xenophobia, the rise of nationalism during the economic recession, are notions and realities that the new generation might not know but Europe itself is well acquainted with them. Will Europe survive one of her biggest political crises? Europe or not Europe? That is the question!
Angela Saka is a master student at the Institut d’Études Européennes.