Most people in this country, certainly most members of the political class and especially its expression in Washington, don’t realize what Donald Trump is trying to do in Europe and Russia. Back in December I explained that Trump has a plan to break up the European Union. Trump and his key advisor Steve Bannon (former Breitbart chief) believe they can promise an advantageous trade agreement with the United Kingdom, thus strengthening the UK’s position in its negotiations over exiting the EU. With such a deal in place with the UK, they believe they can slice apart the EU by offering the same model deal to individual EU states. Steve Bannon discussed all of this at length with Business Week’s Josh Green and Josh and I discussed it in great detail in this episode of my podcast from mid-December.
Now we have a rush of new evidence that Trump is moving ahead with these plans.
One point that was clear in Green’s discussions with Bannon and Nigel Farage is that Trump wants to empower Farage as its interlocutor with the United Kingdom. Given Farage’s fringe status in the UK, on its face that seems crazy. But that is the plan. And it is a sign of how potent Farage’s guidance and advice has become for Trump’s view of Europe, the EU and Russia.
Two days ago, the United States out-going Ambassador to the EU gave a press conference in which he opened up about Farage’s apparently guiding role in the Trump world and what he’s hearing from EU Member states.
From the The Financial Times (sub.req.) …
Donald Trump’s transition team have called EU leaders to ask “what country is to leave next” with a tone suggesting the union “is falling apart” this year, according to the outgoing US ambassador to the bloc.
In a pugnacious parting press conference, Anthony Gardner warned of “fringe” voices such as Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence party leader, holding influence in Washington over Mr Trump’s team.
Speaking days before leaving office, Mr Gardner said it would be “lunacy” and “the height of folly” for the US to ditch half a century of foreign policy in order to support further EU fragmentation or become a “Brexit cheerleader” in Brussels.
“I was struck in various calls that were going on between the incoming administration and the EU that the first question is: what country is about to leave next after the UK?” he said.
“The perceived sense is that 2017 is the year in which the EU is going to fall apart. And I hope that Nigel Farage is not the only voice being listened to because that is a fringe voice.”
Today in a new interview with the Germany’s Bild and the Times of London Trump expanded on these goals dramatically. Trump leveled a series of attacks on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, suggesting he’d like to see her defeated for reelection and saying she’d hurt Germany by letting “all these illegals” into the country. Trump also called NATO “obsolete”, predicted other countries would soon leave the EU, and characterized the EU itself as “basically a vehicle for Germany.”
Trump and Bannon are extremely hostile to Merkel and eager to see her lose. But what is increasingly clear is that Trump will make the break up of the EU a central administration policy and appears to want the same for NATO.
My own view is that Trump and Bannon greatly overestimate America’s relative economic power in the world. Their view appears to be that no European country will feel it is able to be locked out of trade with a US-UK trade pact. An America eager to break up the EU seems more likely to inject new life into the union. However that may be, Trump and Bannon clearly want to create a nativist world order based on the US, Russia and states that want to align with them. The EU and NATO are only obstacles to that goal.