European Reform and Trump’s First United Nations Speech: What are the Implications?

European Reform in the time of Trump

Europe is at a crucial point in its history, and in the last few weeks certain significant developments have emerged.  Separately, they make for interesting political developments.   Combined, they have substantial geo-political implications.

In a recent speech, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, outlined a series of ambitious reforms for the European Union. They called for significant integration, even going so far as to propose the selection of a single European President and the election of European Union Ministers of Finance and Economy. Should these reforms come to pass, they could lead to the emergence of a stronger, more unified E.U. Their prospects do not look particularly bleak when one considers that alongside the reform-minded president Macron of France, Junker is also working with the intrinsically pro-European Chancellor Merkel of Germany, who recently won another four-year term. It is worth noting that where some may find ill omens in the electoral gains of the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AFD) in the recent election, at 12.6% they only managed to gain a similar share of the popular vote to that which the UKIP got in the 2015 British General Election and less than half of that possessed by the current German opposition party.  Merkel is now likely in power for another four years, so she is in a strong position to help facilitate Junker’s reforms. The adoption of his reforms would be a significant step towards the creation of a federated Europe. By itself this would prove momentous, but it also comes at a crucial time in international politics.

Last week marked the annual United Nations summit where the world’s heads of state meet to discuss important matters and concerns. The annual speech given by the U.S. president during this summit is normally treated as a de-facto keynote speech, the most significant of the meeting. Yet this year’s talk was different, symptomatic of a shift in the international zeitgeist. President Trump’s speech was intended to be a call to arms, a potent threat to the perceived enemies of the U.S.A., but it was met instead with incredulity and disbelief by many. His poorly formulated grasp of complex events, embellished with indecorous nicknames, led to a speech that shocked allies and amused rivals. It was symptomatic of the U.S.A.’s declining importance in global politics as other national leaders prove increasingly reluctant to follow a country with overtly egoistic motivations.  What is most interesting is where many people then looked--to Europe. The other signatories in the Iranian Nuclear Deal, seemingly alienated by his bellicose dismissal of their labors, tacitly ignored Trump’s calls to renege on the treaty even as the Iranian press called on Europe to be the voice of reason. They therefore stood by Europe, just as they stood by Europe on the Paris Treaty on Climate Change when they rejected the U.S. President’s calls for a renegotiated deal that better favored U.S. interests. In standing by Europe and its treaties the global community will signify which of these two tacitly competing actors more closely represents the concerns of the global community. Trump’s message in essence boiled down to yet another nationalistic assault on the internationalist principles at the heart of the UN and historically at the heart of the U.S.A.’s influence. This has led to a new level of distrust and loss of confidence in the U.S.A.’s role in defining the international political community. This position being vacated, we should examine whether Europe, now seemingly the most prominent broker of international diplomacy, can fill it.  

Should Junker’s suggested reforms come to pass and a single European President be elected, Europe has the potential to inherit the prestigious role the U.S.A. is callously discarding. As Trump charts a course towards nationalistic isolation, he vacates the U.S.A.’s traditional seat at the heart of the international political system. This a position we are already seeing Europe inherit as it signs ambitious free trade deals with Canada and Japan while also being at the center of prominent international treaties such as the aforementioned Paris Accords and Iranian Nuclear Deal. Their prospects for this matter are greatly helped by the fact that the European Union already has a considerably larger economy than the U.S.A. as well as a larger growth rate. If we were to extrapolate this trajectory, which presumes President Trump manages to continue with his current policies, it would not be unreasonable to assume that Europe could emerge as the global norm setter and thus the de-facto core of the global community. These events, that is, Trump’s U.N. performance and Junker’s E.U. reform proposals, are indicative of an interesting future possibility. In ten years, the U.S. President may not take the center stage every year at the U.N. Instead, they may simply sit and watch, along with the likes of China and Russia, as the world watches the E.U. president fulfil the role the U.S.A. wilfully abandoned.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.

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