Can Europe survive a Trump presidency?
Europeans still can — and indeed must — make the post-American world more stable. Doing so will require the EU to behave as a cohesive foreign policy and security player. No European country on its own can stand up to the world’s great powers. But the EU can — if its leaders decide to do so. In order to do that, they will have to invest in deployable militaries that are able to intervene effectively within the Continent’s neighborhood, as well as serve as a deterrent against Russia’s expansionism. This would also require the creation of real military capability at the EU level, going far beyond the European Defense Agency in its current form.
Brexit too needs to be handled with utmost caution. Whatever one thinks of the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc, Europeans and Brits will have no choice but to work closely together in the post-American world. The EU’s negotiators, Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt, would be well-advised to err on the side of compromise, especially when it comes to the supposed “indivisibility” of the four freedoms. Doing otherwise would play into the hands of Britain’s Europhobes — and risk turning the U.K. into a distant lukewarm ally, or worse yet, no ally at all.
Trump’s victory is particularly dangerous for Central and Eastern Europe. Yet, very few in Bratislava, Prague, Budapest, and Warsaw seem to fathom the gravity of the situation. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán welcomed Trump’s triumph as “great news.” The Czech President’s spokesman hailed it as a victory in the fight against “the conglomerate of dishonest media and conceited pseudo-elites.” In a shocking display of naïveté, both the Prime Minister of Slovakia and the leader of the opposition, Robert Fico and Richard Sulík, stated that the expected rapprochement between Washington and Moscow would be a good thing.
The very survival of Central and Eastern countries is at risk in a world bereft of a vigilant American presence. The region’s Visegrád states and the Baltic countries would be wise to forge the deepest possible ties with European powers at the heart of the integration process — most notably Germany — instead of risking the relationship by posturing on issues like asylum policy.
Most importantly, Europe’s leaders will have to find ways to keep their own domestic Trumps at bay. To do that, they must offer a credible alternative — one that goes beyond the traditional Left-Right divide to address the evident grievances voters have. The future of Europe depends on them finding ways to do that, without compromising on the principles — limited constitutional government, rule of law, fundamental openness to trade, investment — that form the very core of the West’s success.