The temptation was irresistible. A new toss at power hit an old friend, whose sense of purpose once helped a destroyed European continent regain peace: the United States of America. Europeans have been tempted to take advantage of United States’ geopolitical isolation ever since the German chancellor announced a change in the world order. The Europeans, Angela Merkel said, must now take their destiny into their own hands. Read: The next chapter of the EU should bear the handwriting of Germany.
This daring perspective is aided by the learning curve of the dilettante delivered to the White House by the American electoral system. And because Germany is in the middle of its own election season right now, moralizing is on the agenda. We cannot depend on anyone anymore – pause for applause in the beer tent – and for this reason, America is now on the EU’s blacklist. Donald Trump learning to be president has sent Europe onto a learning curve of its own, one that just might be too steep.
Concepts for filling the power vacuum are already circulating. “Our” values and norms, Europeans say, are top exports needed now more than ever, because the Americans have been taken hostage by a novice president. But our faded European values and norms aren’t on the high road, they’re in a glass house. America is more than Trump, and Europe is more than the hero Juncker and the anti-hero Merkel.
If the EU means to play down its own defects by questioning Trump’s reliability, the “More Europe, less America” equation will not be successful. The ideologically loaded topic of climate change, served up in a German beer tent, can be traced back to the clever mix of volatile goals the German chancellor has in view: The good guys fighting climate change beats the bad guys’ arms trading. That’s politics on a purely symbolic level. Broken promises of the trans-Atlantic past are meaningless in light of new power players, and we can’t really call the EU reliable, either.
Announcing a new era in a beer tent sends the commentary about it to barroom levels, where applause is guaranteed. “Total failure of the USA” and “Isolated America” are just two of the headlines about Merkel’s statement. Treating the president of the United States like a target is only fair when the protections of the American Constitution no longer apply to his opponents. European democracies were once in close consensus with the US. The verbal destruction of one of the most powerful louts in the world by his equally fallible opponents in Europe, who act like they are the epitome of democracy, is not protected by the German Constitution’s clauses regarding human dignity.
Treating the president of the United States like a target is only fair when the protections of the American Constitution no longer apply to his opponents.
Turkey’s wannabe dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan has far better chances with the Europeans than Trump does. They have patience with Erdogan. Top German politicians believe they can enlighten him about democracy. “We need Erdogan,” they say, values be damned. As for Trump, they need him as well, but in a different way. Europeans want to use this bad boy and his bad manners to help them realize their dream of turning the EU into a world power. This autocratic adventure is carried out by exporting values, which world trade leader Germany knows it can do, strengthening politics on a symbolic level and opening up to Asia. And Germany’s future politics are landing in thousand-year-old empires, whose pace of innovation the West desperately wants to decelerate.
EU leadership seems to want to heal this blip in the West’s successful history by using new alliance fantasies. But “Europe first” won’t cure them, not while the EU agenda itself remains unfinished. The colonial sins of the “euro heros” must be repaid quickly to repay the years stolen from Southern Europe’s youth. The adrift countries of Southern and Eastern Europe need more help, not penalties. And punishing the United Kingdom would mean repeating the same mistake that alienated the “euro losers” from the EU.
Politicians who woo Erdogan must also embrace Trump: We cannot let the tradition of civilized transfer of power fall by the wayside. We should not confuse the spoilsport with the constitutional status of his office. Every American president is “one of us” because we have shared the highs and lows of history together. The trans-Atlantic agenda does include a debt, but that also includes appreciation and commitment. This includes a dignity of high office that cannot be destroyed by the whim of individual office holders. A strong Europe should ensure that this does not happen. Global legitimacy can’t exist without global power.
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