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Europe, sweep your own doorstep

Hofmann Max Kommentarbild
Max Hofmann
January 20, 2017

The European Union is mesmerized by the events unfolding in Washington and is anxiously watching every step Donald Trump takes, writes DW's Max Hofmann.

USA Amtsübernahme Trump
Image: Reuters/S. Loeb

He has called NATO "obsolete", expects the EU to fall apart and threatens German carmakers with import tarifs. Whether thought out or will-o'-the-wisp, comments made by the new US president have sent shock waves across Europe, especially in Brussels, where EU institutions are based. Reactions have varied. In the European Parliament, deputies spoke of "madness" and "nonsense." As expected of their profession, EU's foreign ministers expressed themselves more diplomatically, but all in all, it was clear again this week that after Donald Trump's inauguration as 45th president of the USA, Europe can no longer rely on Washington.

The EU must stabilize itself

What do you do when your closest partner just disappears on you? You do what the EU should have done long ago: you fix up your home, regardless of what "The Donald" is doing in the USA. There is enough work that needs to be done in Europe with regard to "putting your own house in order" – Brexit, migration and refugee policies, the euro. If Europeans were honest to themselves and viewed what is happening on the old continent from the American perspective – and not just that one – then the situation would not be comprehensible to them. If US parliamentarians were to call European dissent "madness" or "nonsense", no one could blame them.

But, let's return to the European perspective. How does the EU need to adjust? Should it take Trump at his word? Nobody really believes what he says, especially because many of his domestic and foreign projects do not appear to be feasible. That is why some people are applying game theory or business negotiation strategies to his statements in hopes of finding the right interpretation for the US president's words. Others believe Trump is simply incompetent and that his comments in interviews are merely spontaneous utterances. However, it should no longer matter to Europeans what Trump really means, or if it makes sense. If the EU member states in particular do not manage to stabilize the bloc themselves, then the EU is indeed doomed. Two areas have now become an absolute priority: defense and the economy.

EU must do more for its own defense

Deutsche Welle Studio Brüssel Max Hofmann
DW's Max HofmannImage: DW/B. Riegert

Much of the NATO military apparatus has already felt the shockwaves Trump has sent, not least because the new administration is revealing that it is completely unprepared and initially – and probably for a while – has no NATO ambassador. Fears that the Americans will withdraw NATO support and not guarantee safety anymore, or that they will leave the alliance entirely, seem blown out of proportion.

Even if Trump were insane enough to pursue this goal, he would fail in Congress at the latest. A Russian invasion of the Baltic States is probably not to be feared under the new US president. It is true, however, that now, with more urgency than ever, Europeans have been reminded of what they have neglected for decades. Now Europe really has to end its full reliance on the USA and do more for its own defense. Everything must now be put on the table - from higher military spending to a British-French nuclear defense shield for the continent.

The potentially disastrous economic effects of President Trump's policies are much more upsetting. Of course, Americans are the first ones to have cause for concern. Trump's cabinet of billionaires could once again unleash Wall Street, widen the already large gap between the rich and poor and drive the deficit into dizzying heights. Furthermore, many experts fear the US economy will be overheated by stock market euphoria and planned US infrastructure projects. Inflation, speculation bubbles and trade wars could emerge much faster than a third world war and they would hit the ailing European Union hard.

No influence on 'The Donald'

In Europe, the eurozone is still suspended between life and death – no more, no less. One often hears in Brussels that the common currency in its present form can only survive though stronger integration, something that is not politically feasible at the moment. An alternative would be to reverse the European project. One thing is certain: Things cannot remain the way they are. If the wave of an economic crisis "made in the USA" hit Europe in its current state, then European institutions and the European Central Bank (ECB) would barely have any means of reacting. The ECB, in particular, with its extremely lenient financial policies has already played all its trump cards.

That is why diplomats and politicians in EU institutions should worry less about the new US president. Maybe everything will turn out as badly as predicted; maybe Trump has surrounded himself with enough competent people so that the USA will not be driven into a ditch. The EU will barely be able to influence the US' course. What the member states must now do is to steer their own ship. They must finally begin to build a more solid foundation for their own future. If the fears of Donald Trump's conduct makes Europeans show more cohesion and determination, then the US president may have done something good.

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Hofmann Max Kommentarbild
Max Hofmann Head of News & Current Affairs@maxhofmann