Trump’s silver lining for Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Demonstrators wave placards and chant anti-Trump slogans while passing the former Stock Exchange building during protests against the upcoming NATO meeting. Brussels, 24 May. [Robert Ghement/EPA]

The election of Donald J. Trump came as a surprise to the world. But it shouldn’t have, writes Martin Mycielski.

Martin Mycielski is a political commentator and Brussels correspondent for Poland’s leading daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

In many ways, Donald Trump is the apogee of the right-wing populist wave sweeping through Europe, beginning with the collapse of liberal democracy in Hungary and followed by Poland. This nationalistic surge became the EU’s most tragic failure to date, with America seemingly heading down the same, illiberal drain.

Just as with his European counterparts, Trump’s campaign was based on fear and distorting the truth. Combining that with populist promises for the frustrated masses, he had more than enough to achieve victory. Having this ‘mandate from the people’ he started his march towards authoritarianism and – let’s call it by name – fascism.

Following the same authoritarian playbook as his Eastern European predecessors, Trump divided and ruled. Opponents became traitors, unfavourable media fake, facts were replaced with post-truth and lies. The military was prioritised Women and immigrants became enemies of the state. In the meantime, behind the scenes, the regime consolidates power, subdues the judiciary, and with the inert support of the legislature slowly cripples and dismantles democracy.

Eastern Europeans know this scenario far too well, but their warnings fell on deaf ears. Just as our compatriots ignored the warnings of their grandfathers, who went down the same path not even a century ago. But we are by no means condemned to suffer in this vicious circle. We can still make our grandfathers proud. The moment is now, and the final key to our salvation is no one else but President Donald J. Trump himself.

But first, let’s look at Europe. We cannot ignore the fundamental change in circumstances that our continent went through since the early 20th century. We can argue on the development of human mentality, or lack thereof, but we cannot deny that with signing the Paris and Rome Treaties we embarked on the greatest peace project the world has ever seen. And this is where we are now, still living in peace over 65 years later. That fact should always serve as the basis for our hope, a canvas to build on. But Schuman’s painting is undoubtedly starting to show its cracks. What we need now is a brush to fix it.

The idea of common European interests and goals is now more fiction than fact. Likewise, for our most basic needs, like security, the Eastern EU’s citizenry look not to their troubled Western partners, but to their new, “patriotic” leaders. And who do those leaders point to guarantee their security? You guessed it – to the almighty US of A. But then comes along Donald J. Trump, and he puts ‘America first’…

For Europeans, Trump ought to be a bucket of cold water. Until now, Eastern Europeans could build a wall shielding themselves from the EU – both figuratively and literally. But if the worst came to the worst and Putin came knocking, they could always count on NATO’s Black Hawks descending from the sky and saving the day under their star-spangled banner. Not anymore. Trump’s election finally cut Europe’s umbilical cord.

For Europe, Trump’s role is not dissimilar to that of Brexit. They both gave us a brush with which we can paint the EU anew. The question now is how its Brussels leaders use it. If they continue mumbling about a need for integration, while shifting the blame for Europe’s crisis on to member states, the canvas will stay bleak. If the institutions leave the national governments to resuscitate the European project, with some already preferring to let the patient die a slow death, then we might just as well turn off the lights.

But the first signs of this post-populist awakening, the ‘European Spring’ if you will, are already here. Seeing their allies crumbling in isolation having given nationalist populism a chance, Dutch voters hampered their far-right’s march to power. The French have followed suit with even more resolve, categorically rejecting Marine Le Pen’s divisive, Eurosceptic rhetoric. EU Council President Donald Tusk is clearly aware of this ‘cold water bucket’ phenomenon, describing Brexit as a paradoxically positive influence, uniting the other 27 EU members more than any event that came before. There is no reason why Trump couldn’t serve the same purpose.

We’re standing at a defining moment for the Union. Let’s face it – we are alone. Surrounded by wolves, with no big brother to protect us. We need to stand up and fight, together, as one. Just as Trump triggered masses to flood the streets, defending the American dream with one voice, he can prompt us to unite and defend the dream of a strong, united Europe that our forefathers had painted for us. And let’s not stop there – with America liberating the spot, it’s time for the ‘old continent’ to reclaim its rightful place as the leader of the free world!

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