continental divide Europe Debates Future Course in Trump Era

Europeans are divided over whether they should seek to bolster cooperation on the continent or go it alone as nation states.
European headlines show the continent braced for Donald Trump.

Relations between the European Union and the United States have always had their difficulties, but these are particularly polarizing times, and Donald Trump is an especially divisive figure.

How Europeans responded to Mr. Trump’s inauguration speech has largely depended on what side of the continent’s deep political divide they stand.

Mr. Trump’s vow to put “America first” has resonated with Europe's right-wing populists as an invitation to pursue a narrow interpretation of their own national interest.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban hailed the new U.S. president’s inauguration speech, declaring that “multilateralism is now over.”

We aren’t obligated to accept the American rules of the game. Francois Fillon, French presidential candidate

Mr. Orban would like nothing more than to bury multilateralism and get the European Union off his back. Budapest has a long-running feud with Brussels, which has accused Mr. Orban's nationalist government of undermining judicial independence and press freedom.

Pro-E.U. politicians in France and Germany, on the other hand, believe European integration is needed now more than ever before to provide a counterweight to Mr. Trump’s unilateralism.

France’s conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon has huddled with Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the European Union’s future in uncertain times.

If the polls can be believed, Mr. Fillon will likely face off against Marine Le Pen in a second-round vote this April. Ms. Le Pen, a right-wing populist, has allied herself with Mr. Trump and called for France to follow Britain’s example to hold a referendum on its E.U. membership.

Mr. Fillon, however, hasn’t given into populist pressure. Instead, he has called for a demoralized Europe to rally and pursue deeper integration in the wake of Britain’s departure from European Union.

The French conservative has proposed a European defense community with a joint budget for foreign military deployments. Mr. Fillon has also suggested that Europe should seek greater independence from the United States in the wake of Mr. Trump’s victory.

“We aren’t obligated to accept the American rules of the game,” Mr. Fillon told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Senior German officials have signaled readiness to pursue this course with France should Mr. Fillon win the presidential election. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economics minister and vice chancellor, has called for Europe to forge a common security and foreign policy as the United States disengages under Mr. Trump.

“Now is the time to strengthen Europe,” Mr. Gabriel told Handelsblatt in an exclusive interview.

As France and Germany seek to rekindle and deepen their bilateral ties in response to Mr. Trump, Britain is determined to conclude a trade deal with the United States as it leaves the European single market.

Prime Minister Theresa May will travel to the United States on Friday to hold her first meeting with Mr. Trump, who supported Britain's departure from the European Union and has promised a speedy trade deal.

What impact this geopolitical constellation will have on Transatlantic security cooperation is unclear. In a speech last week, Ms. May said that Britain remains committed to cooperating with its European partners against crime and terrorism.

So far, the European Commissioner for Security, Julian King, doesn't see any cause for concern.

“I understand from what Theresa May has said that her ambition would be that, whatever the process of Brexit, there should be effective cooperation in the future between the U.K. and the E.U. 27 in law enforcement and counter-terrorism,” Mr. King told Handelsblatt.

Mr. King, a British citizen, also seemed confident that the United States and Europe would continue to cooperate closely on security issues, despite President Trump’s overtures to Russia and his vow to pursue an “America first” foreign policy.

“On Trump, I believe in judging people by what they do,” Mr. King said. “A key partner has been, is and will continue to be the United States.”



Klaus Stratmann covers the energy market and is deputy chief of Handelsblatt's political desk in Berlin. Thomas Sigmund is Berlin bureau chief and chief of political reporting To contact the authors: [email protected] and [email protected]