European Union

Europe vs. Trump

European parliamentary leaders want rebuke of nomination they believe Trump will make for ambassador to the EU


Gianni Pittella/European Parliament

President Donald Trump's potential choice to represent the United States to the European Union said the president wouldn't "cow to the powers that be." In a radio interview in the United Kingdom, Ted Malloch, who European media report is likely to be Trump's choice, said the president's "heart was in his mouth" and in a reference to Coriolanus that he was "too noble for this world."

"He'll speak his mind even if gets in trouble or held in disregard by others," Malloch, an American economist who runs a government relations consultancy and is currently teaching in England, said of Trump. "It used to be called honesty but in the age of baby talk and political correctness, and mostly bullshit, it's now regarded as dishonesty."

Some European leaders have been pushing for a firm response from the EU to the possibility of a Malloch appointment, even before the latest interview. The leaders of two groups in Parliament, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the People's Party, sent a letter to the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council urging them to reject any request for diplomatic credentials for Malloch, calling him "outrageous malevolence" against EU values, Politico reports. The leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in European Parliament, Gianni Pittella, also argued against Malloch in a speech in parliament, and told Politico that the person the Trump administration has not yet indicated it would choose was "not welcome here."

In a previous interview, Malloch compared the European Union to the Soviet Union, and said he'd like to help dismantle the former as he says he did the latter, according to Politico, and also said the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, was a "very adequate mayor, I think, of some city in Luxembourg and maybe he should go back and do that again."

Trump has not yet made an appointment and the United States mission to the EU is being run by the former deputy. EU credentials are needed for access to certain institutions as well as tax exemptions and other privileges. Trump could theoretically choose only to name ambassadors to the individual member-states of the EU, and a new EU ambassador is not expected to take office until at least June even if the process is smooth.

On his way out, Anthony Gardner, the last U.S. ambassador, Politico reported, told media the Trump administration shouldn't listen to advice from "fringe voices" like UKIP's Nigel Farage, who has been advising Trump, and pushing the idea that Brexit, which he championed, translated to support for his party's brand of nativism, despite support for Brexit coming from a much broader political spectrum. For comparison, UKIP has just one seat in the House of Commons. On the other hand, the anti-EU party received nearly 28 percent of the British vote, and 24 seats, in the European Parliament in the most recent elections. Voters are weary of ever larger and more bureaucratic institutions governing ever greater portions of their lives, and the failure to adequately acknowledge this by more mainstream parties has helped cede the ground to more "fringe" elements.

Gardner insisted he would remain a sort of "shadow ambassador" to promote the EU, saying that half a century of American support for European integration has been "not only good for Europe, it has been good for the United States—for political, economic, and security reasons."

The European integration project has been about eliminating interior barriers to the free movement of people, goods, capital, and services, but also about greater centralization and a larger bureaucracy. Support for these two goals is no more a natural partner than opposition, yet the broken mainstream politics on both sides of the Atlantic have managed to push just such a narrative, to varying success. It's a dangerous byproduct of the kind of populist rhetoric both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S., for example, have been deploying for years. Populist anger and cults of personality have had corrosive effects on the health of the kind of freedom-oriented policies that have made the last half century witness to the greatest worldwide increase in the quality of life in human history. Globalization did that—the increased freedom enjoyed by the people and markets of the world, not the bureaucrats and centralizers who have attached themselves to those processes and now claim they are an indispensable element of it and in fact must manage, micro-manage and otherwise tinker with it. It presents a two-fold threat to free people and free markets—first by directing legitimate anger about the results of bureaucratic meddling and centralization on the processes of freeing and decentralization, and second by insisting they must reverse and slow these processes in order to protect their beneficiaries, the people, from them. It's a tragedy of the era.

Trump, for his part, recently announced he would be attending the NATO summit in Brussels in May, During the campaign, he was a critic of the North Atlantic alliance, often complaining that the U.S. paid too much into the alliance. Since his election, the administration has signaled its support for the alliance—German Chanellor Angela Merkel said she was encouraged by such signals but that work remained on defending free trade.

An editorial in Der Spiegel, meanwhile, urged Germany and Europe to "prepare their political and economic defenses" in a column comparing Trump to Nero. Klaus Brinkbaumer, but he was engaged in histrionics not policy solutions, did not include military defenses. Instead he complained about the U.S. attitude toward its security arrangements. "The fact that the United States, a nuclear superpower that has dominated the world economically, militarily and culturally for decades, is now presenting itself as the victim," Brinkbaumer wrote, "calling in all seriousness for 'America first' and trying to force the rest of the world into humiliating concessions is absurd."

Yet were Europe to take its security, and energy, independence seriously, it would find itself in a position where the politics and actions of the United States and Russia, the other major player influencing the debate within the European Union about their project, would matter less and less. U.S.-European tensions, such as they are, are driven largely by post-World War II security commitments that now enjoy far more support among American political leaders than the American population. Similarly, many of the arguments with Russia stem from Europe's reliance on Russian energy sources. Solutions to both problems are within reach—the U.S. has a president more open to redeploying out of Europe in favor of Europe defending itself, while Europe's energy independence has technological solutions like nuclear power that are thwarted by domestic politics. Focusing on these problems, rather than on what a Trump administration may or may not do for Europe, would be a far more effective strategy. Reducing America's security commitments could also help turn the tide of public opinion away from protectionism and toward freer trade, untethering as it would the concept of free trade from the practice of American meddling around the world. Seeking to further co-opt free trade and movement and its benefits as products of increasingly centralized bureaucracies actually interested in micro-managing those freedoms is at least as much a danger to the accomplishments of freedom in the 20th century as Trump.