Loathing is the only way to describe the expression on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s face when she clarified the nature of Europe’s relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump. During their first round, in the White House, he acted crudely and refused to shake her hand. During the second encounter, at the G7 summit, the chancellor said out loud what was already clear – that Europe cannot count anymore on Trump’s America or the Britain of Brexit. We, the Europeans, must take our fate into our own hands, she declared.
Trump’s destructive decision to quit the Paris climate accord deepened the rift even further. Martin Schulz, the head of Germay’s Social Democratic Party, is Merkel’s political rival but they are in agreement on Trump, and Schulz, as is his wont, didn’t mince words. Trump, he said, “is the destroyer of all Western values such as we have never before experienced in this form,” adding that the U.S. president was undermining the peaceful cooperation of nations based on mutual respect and tolerance.
This isn’t just about Germany. Trump’s lashing out at NATO and his enthusiastic support for Brexit and the French radical right has put Europe on a collision course with Trumpism. “Pittsburgh, not Paris,” declared Trump in a speech full of lies, in which he told his country that he is taking it out of the Paris accord to help Pittsburgh in the spirit of his hollow slogan “America First.” Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron — who Trump (and Russian President Vladimir Putin) had opposed, supporting instead the anti-Semitic Marine Le Pen — responded with an unprecedented direct appeal to the American scientific community and to anyone fed up with Trump. “Find a second homeland in France,” offered Macron, inviting them to “Come and work here with us.”
The phrase “second homeland,” echoes a remark attributed to the renowned U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, “Every man has two countries, his own and France.” He was referring to the France of freedom and enlightenment, the birthplace of human rights. Generations of Americans and French have grown up with the legacy of Jefferson, the legendary ambassador to Paris – the alliance between Washington and Paris, which despite friction over the centuries has remained strong.
The peak of this process unfolded on the ruins of World War II. The victorious United States extended its security umbrella and its financial support to a new European structure, whose core was democratic Germany and France. Britain was reluctant to join for many years, but Europe entered a period of peace and prosperity unprecedented in its history. This seed grew into a magnificent tree in the form of the European Union with its 28 member states. Only a fool can’t see that this union is the culmination of America’s strategic ambitions and its most conspicuous ally in the global order.
At the root of the deep bond between Europe and the United States are joint democratic values, “Western” values. When Europe fears that Trump is undermining these values, while to the East the Russian bear is hovering, it will be forced to embark on a new path. “Forced,” because it feels it has no choice. It was indeed convenient for it to allow the United States to protect the continent over the years and pay for it. And despite Trump’s complaints, it suited America too.
If Europe, which is an economic giant but a diplomatic dwarf, indeed takes the reins, it will have to establish a real security apparatus and formulate an effective diplomatic system; its main challenge will be overcoming disputes among dozens of countries, which is difficult. But it will be the first time that Europe, headed by a Franco-German alliance in an astonishing reversal of history, declares a kind of independence.
With the United States and Britain stepping aside, the path is open for it to position itself, albeit cautiously and hesitantly, as the leader of the free world. All who love freedom and progress should keep their fingers crossed for Europe, as should we, of course, provided we still see ourselves as such.
Published in "Ha'aretz"