It Is Time for Europe To Pick Up the Phone

Trump and his allies must know that Europe exists and that [unless anti-EU elections get in its way] it has every intention to keep existing.

Assuming he gave a single thought to Europe after his electoral triumph, Donald Trump must have asked himself the same question that Henry Kissinger asked a long time ago: Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe? Sure, the next president of the United States has spoken to the chancellor of Germany and to the French president. However, all he got from the so-called Union was little Juncker’s ill-tempered lecture. There was no trace of a proposal, no ideas for how to build future relations, only stubborn silence. Trump’s interactions with Theresa May do not count. Those belong to the realm of a privileged relationship among English speakers. Besides, Brexit has made the English Channel broader than ever. Trump may wonder (and that would be a success by itself) whether this Europe wants to be an agent on the international scene or not.

We will immediately make the allowances that Europe deserves. It is not easy to reach out to someone who sends disastrous signals. The first European politician The Donald accepted to meet was Nigel Farage, the most extremist and fascist among European populists. Steve Bannon has been chosen to lead the counselors who were supposed to mitigate Trump’s early style. Bannon is a racist and a xenophobe who embodies the distance between European values and the ones the next U.S. administration has (temporarily, one hopes) adopted. There are examples of extremism and racism from the new attorney general, head of the CIA and national security adviser as well.

In this light, the EU’s disorientation and doubts about the future of transatlantic relations are understandable. However, the one thing Europe cannot do in this crucial moment is to make itself conspicuous through silence, abdicating its role through absence. Trump is going to be the president of the U.S., no matter what. Given that the necessary conditions for an integrationist leap forward are not in place, Europe’s future depends largely on the possibility of reaching agreements and compromises with the United States. Besides, the Trump storm offers a notoriously divided Europe an unexpected joint platform. Salvaging, or at least clarifying, the relationship with Washington, is in everyone’s interest: from Paris to Warsaw and from Berlin to Budapest. This is especially true now that we are on the verge of an election year that could exploit the Trump wind to beat the Austrian, Italian, Dutch, French and German elite and destroy Europe.

As with every instance of external danger, a joint initiative is needed. This seemed impossible until recently, but after Trump’s victory, it has become indispensable. After overcoming the power struggle that surrounds the Trump Tower and preparing himself for January’s inauguration, the new president must have a European memorandum at hand. This memorandum must remind him of the things he understands best (trade volume, for example). However, it also needs to represent a better thought out political proposal than the slightly paradoxical agreement reached yesterday with Obama in Berlin.

What about NATO’s future? It comes as no surprise that Trump wants Europeans to pay a higher price for their security. Washington has been demanding that for a long time and Europeans, including Italy, must prepare to reach for their wallets. However, Trump should be reminded that America’s engagement in Europe is also important for U.S. strategic interests, more so than those of the EU. NATO remains an insurance policy, especially for those allies within reach of Russia’s excessive military power. This does not mean that hastily expanding NATO east was wise. Nor am I implying that the choices made at the last Warsaw summit considered all possible scenarios. Obama, who at the time was closer to the Pentagon than to the State Department, pushed for them. It does however mean that a renewed transatlantic agreement must start from three springboards: financial burden sharing, honesty about strategic interests and reassurance for allies.

Once that is accomplished, it will not be difficult to move forward on relations with Moscow. If the NATO situation becomes clearer, re-examining the Ukrainian wound will also be easier. Not the annexation of Crimea to Moscow. However, other matters may be discussed: the standing of the Minsk agreements; who is confusing the issue between Putin and Poroshenko; the meaning of the economic sanctions; concessions Moscow will have to make in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere; and the new willingness to work together that Trump has already offered. Nobody, not even Poland or the Baltic states, would profit from the failure of this cooperation. This could be a greater source of security than the NATO military troops along the Russian border. However, Europeans must make it clear that Putin must be held to precise and credible terms in exchange for the direct dialogue with the U.S. to which he has always aspired.

From that point on, it will all be clear sailing, despite disagreements that must be aired frankly. Abandoning the climate agreement, even if it were possible, would be a mistake. The same goes for the nuclear deal with Iran. We also do not fall for the easy charms of protectionism.

Trump and his allies must know that Europe exists and that [unless anti-EU elections get in its way] it has every intention to keep existing. They must receive a strong signal from Europe. One that is more precise than the one about values commendably invoked in the congratulation message from Angela Merkel (and later Hollande). A signal that must also show a greater willingness to discuss common interests. Trump and his collaborators must know that the EU is a group of nations in which disagreements are allowed (sometimes to a fault), but that does not mean we cannot be reached by phone.

Furthermore, if someone has to take the initiative, why can’t it be Italy? Because of the imminent referendum? Because Renzi (this time rightfully) wishes to financially punish the EU states that oppose the redistribution of refugees? Careful, Trump has raised the stakes for the future. Silence will not save Europe. Italy may show that it understands this fact by, without delay, giving substance to the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

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