One of the most recurrent common places among those who make European politics and those of us who comment on it is Jean Monnet’s phrase according to which “Europe will be forged in crises.” It has turned out to be true many times: had it not been for the crisis exchange rate of the early 1990s, the economic crisis of 2008 or the current crisis of the coronavirus, it is very likely that the euro would not have been founded, nor would the union levels that we currently enjoy would have been achieved. But it is a dangerous phrase: it seems to affirm, also, that when things go well (if that happens one day, in the near future), the European Union it will stand still.
But despite the risks, let me use it one more time: the biggest inadvertent crisis the EU has suffered in the last four years, when it was just emerging from the euro crisis, has its own name: Donald Trump. Trump started a trade war with the EU, encouraged Boris Johnson to carry out a hard Brexit, threatened to remove the United States from NATO, he became the political reference for the leaders of the two countries that do the most to break the founding values of the EU, Poland and Hungary, he tried to impose his criteria for the use of technology on Europe and fooled with the leader of the closest adversary from the EU, Russia.
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But once again that crisis ‘forged’ Europe. European countries not only committed (not very credibly, certainly) to increase defense spending to meet the requirements of the OTAN and demanded by Trump, but even began to talk about a possible European army with a self defense strategy. When Trump imposed tariffs on European imports, The EU responded by imposing its own on the importation of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, an emblem of America that votes for Trump, which ended up taking part of its production out of the United States. The EU started talking about something akin to industrial policies to strengthen the european technology, such as the one developed by Ericsson or Nokia for 5G networks. It even had, for the first time, a relatively credible tool to force unruly countries to comply with the rule of law: to condition the receipt of aid on compliance.
The two words that were repeated in the European Comission, the ‘think tanks’ and among the European intellectuals were “strategic autonomy”. The idyll with the United States, which had lasted since the end of World War II, was ending; Trump, it was thought, had done nothing but accelerate a trend that was already there underground, and now Europeans had to learn to manage alone in military, commercial and geostrategic matters. The process would be slow. Yet it was inevitable and unstoppable.
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But was it? As soon as Joe Biden won the presidential election, doubts began to be expressed. First, the German Defense Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, public an article in the Brussels newspaper ‘Politico.eu‘in which he said that “in a world marked by increasing competition for power, the West will only be able to stand firm and defend its interests to the extent that it remains united. Europe continues to depend on the United States for its military protection, both nuclear and conventional, but the United States will not be able to carry the banner of Western values alone. In an unusual act, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, disavowed it in an interview: “I strongly disagree with the German Defense Minister in ‘Politico,” he said. “I think it is a historical misinterpretation. Luckily, if I am correct, the Chancellor [Merkel] does not share this point of view. The United States will only respect us as allies if we are honest, and if we are sovereign when it comes to our defense. ” Trump’s trade for Biden, Macron said, it should be an opportunity to “continue to build our independence in the same way that the United States and China do.” In an even more unusual act, Kramp-Karrenbauer publicly stated that he agreed with the French president, but not entirely: “Without the nuclear and conventional capabilities of the United States, Germany and Europe cannot protect themselves. It is the harsh reality ”.
The two sides of the discussion are somewhat right: strategic autonomy is the objective that the EU should pursue, but it is doubtful that it has the political capital necessary to achieve it in the medium term. Meanwhile, dependence on the United States will persist. But, in any case, this public shock shows that the presence of Trump allowed to forge consensus which, in its absence, will be more difficult to sustain. His presence functioned as a accelerator of the tasks that the EU had pending but He was in no hurry to do it, and as much as we celebrate his departure from power, it is possible that the European tendency to leave things by halves is underpinning. Why should we continue with the frenetic pace of autonomous technological, military and commercial plans if old America is back in Washington, the one that was politically hardened in the Cold War and the sacred notion of protecting Europe?
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Trump, in that sense, leaves a huge void in European politics. All analysts have been hoarse to repeat that the good old days will not return and that, no matter how much the Democrats rule, or later a more traditional version of republicanism, United States it will continue to urge Europeans to, for example, spend more on defense or align with them in the confrontation with China. But not seeing that man in the White House will make us relax. Macron It will try not to make it happen, but it will. And, in a sense, we will be able to invoke Monnet again, but with a twist: “The Trump presidency was a crisis that allowed Europe to be forged, but it was too short a crisis.”