Michael Crowley writes in Politico Magazine about the fear among Europe’s elites that President Trump and his chief strategist Steve Bannon pose an existential threat to the future of the European Union.
Trump and Bannon’s championing of Brexit and their distrust of globalist bureaucracies have set off alarm bells among the elites in Brussels. To Bannon, Crowley writes, “a strengthened EU is nothing less than a risk to civilization: a body that dilutes national identity and whose border policies allow Islam to invade the West, one refugee at a time.”
This EU antipathy, combined with the Trump administration’s signaling of their desire for bilateral trade agreements, could spell doom for the already weakened EU.
The idea that one man could threaten the European project might sound extreme. And it would be an exaggeration to say that even the full-throated support of Breitbart London was what tipped the scales toward Brexit. But having the ear of the president of the United States is different—and the question of just what Bannon plans to do with his influence has become a huge preoccupation of diplomats, European government officials and experts on the venerable trans-Atlantic relationship. In more than a dozen interviews, they recounted a creeping sense of dread about the very specific ways Bannon could use American power like a crowbar to pull the EU apart.
Since the election, European officials have been combing the internet, including Breitbart’s archives, for clues to Bannon’s worldview and how he might counsel Trump. And what they’re finding is stoking their deepest anxieties. “They have a deep well of psychological reliance on the American-led order,” says Jeremy Shapiro, a Hillary Clinton State Department official now at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London. Now they’re bracing for an American assault on that order.
Europe as we know it has never been more vulnerable to such an assault. Economic malaise and high debt are testing the EU’s financial structures and pitting its members against one another. So is the historic influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Nationalist parties and candidates hostile to the Union are ascendant in France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands—all of which are set to hold elections this year. Russia, which may stand to gain the most from a disunited Europe, is gleefully aiding the process by disrupting Europe’s domestic politics with propaganda and hacking meant to discredit the pro-EU establishment.
“For an American administration, breaking up the EU is like falling off a log. The majority of EU countries value their relationship with the U.S. more than they do with the EU, and are readily open to American requests that would even run counter to the letter of their European obligations,” Jeremy Shapiro says. That might apply to issues beyond trade, he says, speculating that Trump could roil EU members by rewarding some and punishing others with tax and immigration policies. “It’s trivially easy,” Shapiro says. “If you differentiated between countries, you could create a lot of damaging tension within the EU.”