Thursday

13th Aug 2020

Trump win could be 'end of era' in EU-US ties

  • The Trump presidency "could be something insane, or it could be down to earth" (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Trump supporters in the US and in Europe began celebrating at about 5:30am Brussels time in an outcome that plunges world affairs into uncertainty.

The celebrations came when the state of Florida chose the Republican Party candidate, a volatile property tycoon, over the Democratic Party’s Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state.

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  • “Nato is used to elections, [they] happen all the time,” Lute said (Photo: nato.it)

The result was confirmed at 8:35am, when Trump crossed the finishing line with 276 votes in the so-called electoral college.

He sounded a conciliatory note in his victory speech despite having run a divisive campaign.

“We will get along with all other nations, willing to get along with us”, he said.

“While we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone … we will seek common ground, not hostility, partnership, not conflict”, he added.

At the US mission to the EU in Brussels, Anthony Gardner, the ambassador, said: “I believe in the power of this US-EU relationship to do good in the world. That won’t change. I continue believing in that.”

He urged moderates in the US and in Europe “to speak out with passionate intensity”.

“Many elections coming up in Europe. We will face a common challenge of understanding how our politics have changed. They clearly have changed. We need to understand why,” he said.

Douglas Lute, the US ambassador to Nato, played down Trump’s anti-Nato remarks during the campaign.

“Nato is used to elections, [they] happen all the time,” he said.

“I’m confident … Nato will remain a cornerstone of American foreign policy with bipartisan support,” he added.

Reactions from Europe were less cheerful.

Germany's defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, told German radio that Europe would have to ask Trump: “Do you stand by the [Nato] alliance?”

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, said on French radio that he was “worried” about future US ties.

Other diplomats spoke out in less guarded terms.

In posts on Twitter that were later deleted, the French ambassador to the US, Gerard Araud, wrote: “After Brexit and this election, everything is possible. The world is collapsing before our eyes. Vertigo.”

And later, he wrote: “It’s the end of an era - that of neoliberalism. Who knows what comes next?”

Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Moscow, said: “I have never been so depressed about the future of America than right now”.

Bigger than Brexit

Anti-EU and anti-immigrant politicians in Europe reacted to the news of a fellow populist in the White House with glee.

“Congratulations to the new president of the United States Donald Trump and to the people of the US, [who are] free,” said Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party.

Beatrix von Storch, from Germany’s far-right AfD party, said: “It’s an historic victory. It’s a surprise only for the establishment.”

Geert Wilders, the Dutch anti-EU agitator, said: “The people are taking their country back. So will we”.

Nigel Farage, a British MEP who led the campaign for the UK to leave the EU, said: “I thought Brexit was big, but this looks like it’s going to be even bigger”.

The outcome, as in the Brexit referendum in June, confounded polls, which had predicted a Clinton win, and jolted markets around the world.

Japan held emergency talks on how to stabilise the situation after the Nikkei stock exchange index fell 6 percent.

US markets contracted by 5 percent and the dollar fell against the yen and the euro.

The Mexican peso also plunged, with Paul Krugman, a Nobel-winning US economist, saying: “We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight.”

In terms of international reaction, China had, earlier in the night, begun positioning itself for a Trump victory.

If Trump took office it would end "self-damaging competition" between China and the US, an op-ed in the Chinese state-controlled Global Times said on Wednesday.

Many Russians took to social media to celebrate the Trump win, amid hope that he would end sanctions on Russia and recognise its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Want to wretch?

The outcome puts some EU leaders, who had criticised him in undiplomatic terms, in a difficult position.

During the campaign, French president Francois Hollande had said that Trump’s “excesses make you want to retch”.

He also warned at the time: “It [a Trump victory] could lead to a very strong turn to the right in the world ... the American campaign shows issues that will be reflected in the French [presidential] campaign [in 2017].”

Aside from political fallout, the outcome is unlikely to see change in US foreign policy until mid-2017 at the earliest - after Trump has been sworn in and has settled at the White House.

The best scenario for Europe is that Trump surrounds himself with senior figures from the Republican Party, who continue US policy more or less unchanged on Nato, Russia, and the Middle East.

Even that scenario involves the likely death of EU-US free trade talks and of the Paris climate accord, however.

The worst scenario is that he uses his sweeping powers on foreign policy to launch a military adventure.

A negative scenario could also see him strike a grand bargain with Russia on spheres of influence in Europe, emboldening Kremlin revanchism, or pull the US out of Nato, ending 70 years of Western strategic alliance.

’Totally unpredictable’

Steven Blockmans, a Belgian scholar at the Ceps think tank in Brussels, said the radical scenarios were less likely.

He said there was a consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that “in an increasingly complex and contested world, Europe remains a crucial ally for the US on a wide range of issues.”

“Both are status quo powers interested in adherence to existing global governance institutions and international law, while seeking to maintain their strategic edge over the rest of the world”, he said.

He warned that if Europe was to have any leverage on Trump then “EU institutions and member states would have to act together” in future.

Judy Dempsey, an expert with the Carnegie Europe think tank in Berlin, also said EU leaders would have to find “a new modus vivendi” with the US after Trump's win.

Trump in his campaign speeches, had praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin, but Jonathan Eyal, a security expert at the Rusi think tank in London, said he could end up taking a tough line on Russia.

“Trump’s not the Manchurian Candidate,” Eyal said, referring to a Cold War-era film about a US president who was brainwashed by Soviet spies.

Andras Simonyi, a Hungarian diplomat who heads a faculty on transatlantic relations at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said Trump was “totally unpredictable” at this stage.

“It [his presidency] could be something insane, or it could be down to Earth,” he said.

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