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16th Feb 2019

US ambassador warns of Trump-type victories in Europe

  • US ambassador to the EU, Anthony L. Gardner. (Photo: Casa de América)

Donald Trump's victory should serve as a lesson for Europe's mainstream forces ahead of their own ballots next year, the US ambassador to the EU said.

”Politics as usual just doesn’t work, on both sides of the Atlantic. We need to understand why,” Anthony L. Gardner told journalists on Wednesday (9 November) while the final votes were tallied.

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Phrases such as ”the system is rigged” had tapped into something important, the US envoy said.

”Clearly, one of the key words in these elections was fairness. People aren’t feeling they profit from the benefits of globalisation and free trade," Gardner, a former venture capitalist and champion of the EU-US trade pact, TTIP, suggested.

That wasn’t just a feeling, but a fact proven by studies, he added.

The McKinsey Global Institute  recently found that about two-thirds of households in 25 advanced economies were flat or fell in the last decade. The situation was the worst in Italy, where 97 percent of middle class has seen stagnant or declining take-home pay. In the US, the figure was 81 percent.

”People fear their children will be worse off than themselves,” Gardner said, calling the situation "dramatic".

He predicted extreme forces would try to exploit Donald Trump’s election to make their own cases next year, when Czechia, France, Germany and the Netherlands all head to the polling booths.

”Certain politicians will use this to convince [disgruntled voters] they too can overturn status quo," he warned.

The EU should win over voters by making its trade policy fairer and taking measures against tax evasion by multinational companies, he said.

But above all, the ambassador called for another type of communications, one that won "minds, but also hearts".

Paraphrasing a stance by Irish poet W. B. Yeats, Gardner said it was time for moderates to ”speak out with passionate intensity”.

”I’ve been on the road for two and a half years to promote TTIP. We were showing up with facts, opponents were showing up with passion. We need to respect facts, but passion often wins," he said.

The EU wasn't in a good place for the moment, "struggling to hold it together”, he said. But all and all, the US envoy still believed in the project and that politicians could win votes on pro-European messages.

"But we need to regain the sense of what the EU is good for. It shouldn't be a difficult argument to make, but we aren't making it very well because we are using technical language," said the US envoy, who is also half-European.

For those who worry that the EU is falling apart, he said that ”one has to see the movie, not just the snap shot”.

"If you just look at the situation today, you’ll be pessimistic. But over a five or ten years period, that picture often changed. I’ve seen the movie and I think I know where it goes. Fundamentally, I am optimistic," he said.

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