Föhrenbergkreis Finanzwirtschaft

Unkonventionelle Lösungen für eine zukunftsfähige Gesellschaft

How Trump, Putin and Erdogan unsettle the EU

Posted by hkarner - 27. Mai 2017

Date: 25-05-2017
Source: The Economist: Charlemagne

Liberal values and the rule of law meet capricious populism

THE mood is brighter in Europe these days. It has not, admittedly, taken much to lift the spirits: reckless extremists came second, not first, in elections in Austria, the Netherlands and France; economic growth has accelerated beyond a snail’s pace; and Brexit, though probably disastrous for Britain, may not be catastrophic for Europe. Still, even the return of normality is a relief for a continent that has spent the past few years battling crises.

But if Europeans have at last started to feel better about themselves, the world outside looks ever-more menacing. The cherished European values of liberalism and respect for human rights are being challenged by a cohort of unpredictable leaders who seem not to prize or understand them. This is unsettling for the European Union, a slow-moving club founded on reverence for the rule of law. For Europeans the shift is embodied in three presidents whose capricious impulses are shaping and constraining their foreign policy: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Take Mr Trump first. Europeans’ fears about the American president have partly eased since he took office. Mr Trump used to enjoy egging on anti-EU politicians like Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen. However, after meeting various European leaders, he has largely stopped doing so. In February Mike Pence, the vice-president, reassured Eurocrats that America was not bent on destroying the EU. European officials, after visits to Washington, express optimism that some of Mr Trump’s more outlandish courtiers, such as Peter Navarro, a trade adviser who thinks America’s deficits threaten its security, have lost the president’s ear.

But Europeans are far from comfortable. “We have no idea where [the Americans] are on so many issues,” says a diplomat in Brussels, where Mr Trump was arriving for an EU meeting and NATO summit as The Economist went to press. That meeting was to be followed by a two-day summit of the G7 in Sicily. In the run-up to these encounters the Europeans hunted for clarity on America’s intentions, especially on climate and trade. During the campaign, Mr Trump vowed to withdraw from the Paris climate accord; he has neither reaffirmed nor revoked that pledge. (Alert to his “America first” approach to diplomacy, the Europeans have drawn up lists of American jobs that depend on clean energy.) The Americans have been reluctant to sign up to boilerplate language, in the G7 communiqué, on the importance of global trade.

If Mr Trump provokes questions for Europeans, Mr Putin challenges their assumptions. His Crimean land grab upset the post-cold war order, and his troops wreak havoc in Ukraine’s east. Weakness may limit the scale of what Mr Putin can accomplish. But Russia’s ongoing decline gives him a reason to act now rather than wait to disrupt pro-European reforms in countries that he sees as within his sphere of influence (although, happily, the EU has at last granted Ukrainians the right to visa-free travel). Inside the EU Mr Putin and his proxies meddle in elections and sponsor rabble-rousing parties and fake NGOs. Some governments have set up disinformation units to counter Russian propaganda.

Mr Erdogan is an even trickier customer. Turkey is a NATO ally and a candidate for accession to the EU. Its intelligence can help Europeans fight terrorism; it hosts millions of refugees who might otherwise seek sanctuary in Europe. But the president is impossible for Europeans to deal with. He compares European governments who bar him from campaigning on their territory to Nazis, and threatens to dump migrants on Bulgaria and Greece if he does not get his way. His domestic purges have nearly destroyed Turkish democracy. Some Europeans, including the Austrian government, want to end Turkey’s accession talks. (Others quietly hope Mr Erdogan will end them himself.)

Dealing with any one of this trio would be hard. Together they make for a tetchy neighbourhood. Uncertainty over America’s approach to Russia, for example, magnifies the threat from Mr Putin. Fears that Mr Trump might seek a grand bargain with the Kremlin have faded, but German officials cannot count on the co-operation over Ukraine that they enjoyed in Barack Obama’s day. Relations among the three are unpredictable, too. In the past 18 months Turkey has shot down a Russian plane, a Russian ambassador has been murdered in Ankara, Russia has slapped sanctions on Turkey and the two countries have made friends again.

Combine the difficulties with Russia and Turkey with question-marks over America’s commitment to their security, and Europeans are left with an acute sense of “geopolitical loneliness”, in the words of Jan Techau of the American Academy in Berlin, a think-tank. This also unsettles neighbouring regions in which the EU is used to exerting influence. The vacuum is felt in the ex-Soviet states, where American support was once a given, but also in the Western Balkans, a dangerously unstable zone in the heart of Europe where America, Russia and Turkey all vie for influence.

Alone in a world so cold
Some take a rosier view. European diplomats like to say that Mr Trump’s election and Brexit have fostered a newfound sense of cohesion in Europe. Surveys indeed find support for EU membership growing in most countries, and this week the Pew Research Centre issued similar findings for NATO.

But it is a fragile sort of unity, grounded not in confidence but in fear of the outside world. At a recent meeting EU trade council meeting, one diplomat notes with glee, the old splits between free-traders and protectionists had gone; all were united behind protective anti-dumping measures. The waves of migrants that poured into Europe from Turkey in 2015-16 saw a scramble to close borders. And it is the threat from Mr Putin, more than any scolding tweets from Mr Trump, that have spooked European governments into raising defence spending. The terrible trio are casting long shadows.

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