2016 will be remembered as the year when liberal democracy turned its back on liberal internationalism. And unless something is done, it will also be remembered as the year of severance between Europe and the United States, including the demise of the West.
The voters in the UK said no to EU membership. Voters in the US said yes to a presidential candidate who promised to build walls and trade barriers. In a democracy you have to respect the choice of the people, whether you agree with it or not. Both votes symbolise the end of a post Cold War-era dominated by the EU and America. An era which leaned on international institutions and global capitalism and created unforeseen prosperity on both continents.
Much has been said about the reasons for Brexit and Donald Trump and their possible implications for the free world. Less has been said about what we should actually do about the new situation. We need to be both pragmatic and principled.
Lessons from history are often useful. After the financial crisis of 1929 Europe opted for nationalism, whereas the US chose protectionism. Both rejected globalisation. Europe caused the second world war. The United States saved us.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009, nationalism and protectionism seems to be winning the day. Populist movements are on the rise. Brexit and the US elections could pave the way for similar votes in Italy, Austria, The Netherlands, France and Germany within the next 12 months. Less than a century later Europe and the US now have a similar decision to make. Will we opt for policies of disengagement or co-operation? I propose we do the latter. We should forge a New Deal between Europe and the US and it should be based on three pillars.
First, security. Europe needs to listen to what Donald Trump has to say on the cost of Nato. This means that European countries need to beef up their military expenditure whilst at the same time continue to develop the EU’s security and defence capabilities in close co-operation with Nato.
My fear is that President Trump might be tempted to strike a deal with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, on Nato enlargement — namely that it should not take place. This would leave a security political vacuum in northern Europe, especially Finland and Sweden, who are outside the military alliance but members of the EU. Their so called “Nato option” would be made null and void.
Second, foreign policy. Europe and the US must find a way to engage Russia in a principled way. This will not be easy. Russia detached itself from the international mainstream in the conflicts of Georgia (2008), Ukraine (2014) and Syria (2015). It has violated international law on all fronts. This cannot and should not go unpunished.
At the same time we must realise that international security is heavily dependent on Russian involvement. Here my fear is that President Trump will strike a deal on the basis of realpolitik by lifting the sanctions on Russia in exchange from a withdrawal from Ukraine and a joint plan on Syria. This would mean a de facto recognition of Crimea as a part of Russia.
Third, trade. No matter how unpopular a transatlantic trade agreement might be in the eyes of the populist left and right, there is overwhelming evidence that it provides growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. If a deal is not struck, the economic situation will deteriorate, populist movements will grow and someone else will set the standards of world trade.
The current trend in trade is towards bilateral, rather than multilateral trade agreements. Europe and the US should look towards China as a major trading partner. It might be too early to build a trilateral trade deal, but a potential failure of a transatlantic deal will certainly weaken the biggest trading block of the world. Not even the Great Wall prevented China from opening up.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was spot on when she said that “Germany and America are bound together by values — democracy, freedom, respecting the rule of law, people’s dignity regardless of their origin, the colour of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views”.
Electoral outcomes, be they on Brexit or the US President, do not change the basic values which the West should stand for. It remains to be seen how those values are upheld in both Europe and the US. We should not turn our backs against those values, let alone turn against each other.
On the basis of these values we should work to renew the transatlantic bond. President-elect Trump says he likes to do deals. We need a new deal between Europe and the US, based on the respect of our common values. I also think that the only possible dealmaker on the European side is Chancellor Merkel.
Thomas Paine once said that “those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undertake to support it”. This is a timely message to protectionists and nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic. You either export security or import insecurity. The choice is for Europe and the US to make.
The optimist in me says that 2016 should be remembered as the year when we were able to show why transatlantic co-operation and liberal internationalism is not dead. The pessimist in me says that things will go from bad to worse. At least we have a choice which is entirely in our own hands.