Two weeks ago many contradictions of the EU policy making process were displayed yet again in the context of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean. There are deep divisions between the member states and the EU is essentially held hostage by intergovernmentalism and national vetoes.
If this is one of the many internal threats, this week the EU has had to cope with an external threat, and its name is Donald Trump: the US president has come to Europe for the NATO summit, the State visit to the UK and the meeting with Putin in Helsinki.
What do these three events have in common? The fact that Trump has come here to purposefully destabilise the EU.
He made no secret of it during the electoral campaign and with his policy of trade tariffs he has shown it clearly, but economic destabilisation apparently is not enough. During the NATO summit, Trump has made several false claims: He has stated that the US military budget is a waste because it protects Europe whilst European countries do not spend enough.
Technically, NATO does not require a 2% military budget as it was an informal target agreed by the States in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but the USA cannot claim to spend more than Europe on defence in order to protect it because just a part of it goes to NATO as the USA has other international military operations in the world which have nothing to do with the Atlantic Alliance.
Every member of the Alliance contributes according to its own capabilities, and no one owes anything to the USA in these terms and the 2% has to do with the internal defence of each country.
Trump is just cherry picking in order to discredit NATO and possibly to pave the way for a possible USA withdrawal, a gesture which would please Putin immensely and which would completely isolate the USA from the rest of the world (as Donald Tusk has said), breaking an alliance of 70 years which has guaranteed, among with the European integration project started in 1952, peace in Europe as it transformed former enemies into strong military allies (think of France and Germany).
Trump knows perfectly that, in spite of apparent progress such as the PESCO or the European Intervention Initiative, the EU has always struggled to establish a common defence policy: attacking NATO means attacking the only military skeleton which the EU has and has always had.
Having left Brussels, Trump headed to London where he has shown his support for Brexit by suggesting Theresa May should “sue the EU”.
The US President tried to court an already confused British government, harmed by the resignation of David Davis and Boris Johnson, pushing it to go on with the process of leaving the EU by dangling the promise of a smooth trade agreement in front of it. The latter will likely end up an agreement unfavourable to the UK as it will force it to accept many American concessions given Trump’s opposition to free trade and his constant economic nationalism.
The biggest shock came from the meeting in Helsinki. Trump made his position regarding Putin and Russia abundantly clear: not only did he blame the USA (and by analogy the EU) for the current bad relations with Russia, but he also sided with Putin and attacked his own FBI and the current investigation of Russian meddling in US politics.
This gesture has not surprised the EU and its heads (Trump had already stated days before that the EU is economically “the foe”) but it has definitely shocked US politics with both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party denouncing his position. The Senate also passed a motion reiterating the US support for NATO with an overwhelming majority of 97 against 2.
Attacking NATO, encouraging Brexit and courting Putin are three pieces of the same project: weakening the EU, the most vulnerable of his “enemies”. It is not a State, it has no common foreign policy, or internal unity and is already under pressure both internally and externally.
Economically the EU can stand to Trump, and we have seen it with the response against tariffs which has bothered American businesses.
However, it is completely utopian to imagine the EU coming together in these matters, reinforcing the political union and forging a common foreign and defence policy as well as removing the remaining internal barriers. These kinds of changes take a long time and require treaty changes.
Trump, along with Putin has also become an internal role model for some of the European far-right governments of the Visegrad Group: the euro-sceptical “coalition” in the EU is trying to destabilise the EU from the inside through Russian support and with the endorsement of a US president, who is the same product of Russian political aggression against the Europe and its allies.
Last week we have received confirmation that the EU is under attack from many fronts and needs to decide quickly how to handle its aggressors, for the sake of its survival.