From Brexit to Trump, EU reels from year of crises

FMs from 28 coun­tries to meet in Brus­sels to­day

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Euro­pean Union’s founders be­lieved its unity would be forged in cri­sis, but af­ter Brexit and the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump to the White House the bloc looks shakier than ever.

To­day, for­eign min­is­ters from the 28 EU coun­tries will hold talks in Brus­sels on the impact of a pres­i­dent who has pre­vi­ously ques­tioned the decades-old transat­lantic pact to de­fend the con­ti­nent. With pop­ulists on the rise, Rus­sia pos­ing an in­creas­ingly men­ac­ing pres­ence to the east, the mi­gra­tion cri­sis and the end­less fall­out from the eu­ro­zone debt crash, many fear per­pet­ual tur­moil.

EU Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk said on Wed­nes­day that the events of 2016 were a “warn­ing sign for all who be­lieve in lib­eral democ­racy”, and urged Europe to “fi­nally get our act to­gether”. But Trump’s elec­tion has made it harder to re­group, given that Europe-while try­ing to stay prag­matic in deal­ing with Washington-has no idea what to re­ally ex­pect from the bil­lion­aire.

And Euro­pean Com­mis­sion chief Jean-Claude Juncker is wor­ried that a lot of time could be wasted teach­ing Trump about Europe. “Mr Trump, dur­ing his cam­paign, said that Bel­gium was a vil­lage some­where in Europe,” Juncker told stu­dents in Lux­em­bourg on Fri­day.

“We must teach the pres­i­dent-elect what Europe is and how it works,” he said. “I be­lieve we’ll have two years of wasted time while Mr Trump tours a world he doesn’t know.”

Soul-search­ing has been the or­der of the day in Brus­sels ever since the body-blow of Bri­tain’s vote in June to be­come the first coun­try to leave the EU in its 60-year history. Tusk warned at the time that the “West­ern political civ­i­liza­tion” that has kept Europe at peace since World War II was now at risk.

That “civ­i­liza­tion” has seen both sides of the At­lantic broadly shar­ing the same commitment to the free mar­ket and lib­eral democ­racy, with Amer­ica prop­ping up Europe’s de­fenses.

Un­til now. Trump’s cam­paign threats to aban­don the col­lec­tive de­fense pledge that is the bedrock of the NATO mil­i­tary al­liance was a ma­jor shock for Europe. Juncker also warned that Trump’s cam­paign rhetoric dis­played huge ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences with Europe. He noted the busi­ness­man-turned-re­al­ity TV star had “taken a view of refugees and non-white Amer­i­cans that does not re­flect Euro­pean con­vic­tions and feel­ings”.

Both Ger­many’s Angela Merkel and France’s Fran­cois Hol­lande have called on Trump to up­hold demo­cratic val­ues in a sign of Europe’s con­cerns. Trump’s ap­par­ent close­ness to Rus­sia will also be ring­ing alarm bells in Europe as it de­bates whether to keep up sanc­tions over the Ukraine cri­sis and looks for so­lu­tions to the con­flict in Syria.

“The post-Sec­ond World War global lead­er­ship role of West­ern lib­eral democ­racy was al­ready chal­lenged,” said Fabian Zuleeg of the Euro­pean Pol­icy Cen­tre think-tank.

“But a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will in­crease US iso­la­tion­ist ten­den­cies, which is a fur­ther blow to this lead­er­ship role.”

‘Plenty more shocks’

Rat­tled Euro­pean lead­ers have is­sued calls, af­ter both Brexit and the Trump win, for Europe to seize its own des­tiny and tackle what they have dubbed a “poly­cri­sis”. Trump and Brexit are at least be­ing seen in some quar­ters as an op­por­tu­nity to boost EU unity, with the bloc’s for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini say­ing it can be a “su­per­power” for peace.

Of­fi­cials in­sist the bloc is more re­silient than it is given credit for-just as the EU’s found­ing fa­ther Jean Mon­net wrote in his me­moirs that “Europe will be forged in crises”.

But so far the EU’s main re­sponse has been its time-hon­ored one: Call more meet­ings. An­a­lysts say that is not enough. “Euro­peans are mud­dling through,” Judy Dempsey of the Carnegie Europe think-tank told a sem­i­nar this week. “One won­ders how many wake-up calls the Euro­peans ac­tu­ally need to do some­thing.”

The tim­ing is in­creas­ingly ur­gent. France holds pres­i­den­tial elec­tions next year and far­right leader Ma­rine Le Pen’s chances of pulling off a Trump-like coup are sud­denly be­ing taken more se­ri­ously.

Far-right par­ties are also hop­ing for a boost in polls in the Nether­lands and Aus­tria, while Merkel, in­creas­ingly tak­ing a role as the EU’s moral an­chor, is up for re-elec­tion.

Brex­i­teer-in-chief Nigel Farage ex­ults over what many oth­ers fear. “Don’t think that the demo­cratic revo­lu­tion is over,” he tweeted. “There are plenty more shocks to come. 2017 may sur­prise us as much as 2016.” — AFP

BEL­GRADE: Mi­grants and refugees walk near the vil­lage of Si­manovci along a mo­tor­way that links the Ser­bian cap­i­tal Bel­grade to the Croa­t­ian bor­der yes­ter­day. Some 100 mi­grants in Bel­grade, mostly young men from Afghanistan and Pak­istan, be­gan a march and set off on foot to­wards the Croa­t­ian bor­der in the hope of en­ter­ing the Euro­pean Union. — AFP

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