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After Trump: What next for Europe?

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Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America, after one of the most controversial electoral campaigns that will be ever remembered. Stock markets all over the world have initially reacted with sharp dips. As already happened with Brexit, pools and stock exchanges could not foresee the outcome, confused by a sort of "wishful thinking".

The main issue is that nobody can predict what is going to come next. Trump changed his mind and held opposite claims on may issues during the run to the White House. He insulted many American allies and sent opening signals to Russia and Vladimir Putin. He has no previous political history, therefore the world does not have a clue about his real intentions. Excluding the announced tax cuts for millionaires, that includes himself as well, any of his future move is unpredictable. The whole world is mainly interested in his economic, foreign and environmental policy, that will have a global impact.

The difference will be made by the team Trump will form and keep on his side, and by the influence the Republican party will have on the new administration. That will probably be limited since most Republicans pundits has sided against Trump, who promised to completely reset the Washington ruling class. It will probably be the biggest test for the "checks and balances" system created by the founding fathers to prevent authoritarian drifts. Trump and the Republicans will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and will have to appoint the judge of the Supreme Court - which currently have an equal number of liberals and conservative judges - ensure a conservative republican majority.

For the world and Europe a very uncertain and dangerous phase will begin. During the Presidency of George W. Bush the majority of Europeans thought that the country which constituted the greatest danger to peace and security in the world was the USA! The same might happen for the next 4 years, but with a substantial difference. Back then the Europeans criticized an assertive foreign policy in a context that did not present Europeans with fundamental security challenges. Today Europeans are surrounded by threats and wars and Trump's view on the issue indicates that the US are not coming to the rescue. The independence of the Baltic countries, EU members, whose airspace was repeatedly violated by Russian military aircrafts in recent months, will have to be guaranteed by the Europeans. Russia's capability and readiness to use force was shown by Crimea's annexation, the war in Ukraine and the intervention in Syria to support Assad. The stabilization of Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa - on which depends the control and reduction of refugee flows and the containment of Islamic terrorism - will be our problem.

NATO will serve as a meeting place where the Americans will demand Europeans to spend more on defence. It is important, therefore, that the Europeans accelerate integration in terms of defence policies, and quickly create a unified command center - but not in Brussels, where it would be taken over by NATO, but in Strasbourg, in place of the second main location of the European Parliament, that everybody but France is willing to abolish. The EU countries, as a whole, have the second military spending budget in the world, roughly comparable to China's and bigger than Russia's, but with very limited military capacity. A unified European defence would allow huge economies of scale and specializations and greatly increase our ability to face the current dramatic security challenges, even with the same level of military spending.

Asia does not have a collective security system. Trump's presidency makes the US security commitments towards South Korea and Japan less stable. This could lead to the rearmament of Japan and South Korea - possibly seeking to acquire nuclear weapons - and possibly to an armament race throughout the far East. This will further accelerate the military rise of China, which continues to have territorial disputes with its neighbours and to increase its military spending, also in view of a potential hegemonic role in the world.

Climate and trade agreements recently signed by the US are unlikely to be ratified or upheld, with serious repercussions on the fight against climate change and on the global economy. There can be little expectation of a strengthening of global governance and multilateral international institutions. This will weaken the attempt to address major global problems cooperatively, trying to provide global public goods such as world trade, better financial regulation, security and stability of the world order, and the fight against climate change. Trump's preferred options seem typical of realpolitik: confrontation and possibly bi-lateral agreements with the major great powers even at the expense of their smaller allies; use of military hegemony to unload costs on other countries. It is likely to be a nineteenth-century-like world, but without a central role for the Europeans, and with nuclear proliferation and terrorism, whose main potential target is just Europe.

On the political side, Trump's success, after Brexit, strengthen nationalism in populist clothes. The increased tendencies to closure in our society are very similar to those that after the First World War led to fascist regimes in various European countries. Protagonist the petty bourgeoisie - the legendary middle class - scared by the grip of the widening gap between the big bourgeoisie, on one hand (nowadays financial and business elites), and the proletariat on the rise on the other (today migrants), which calls into question its specific class role in society. The challenge between open society and mind closure - which in extreme situations, with serious threats in terms of defence or wars may result in the worst violations of human rights in history, as happened with the Holocaust - is being fought in Europe today.

On one side we witness an aggressive policy proposal based on as simple as illusory recipes, who rides people's fears and promises a radical change. On the other we see a political class in defense of national powers and therefore of an unsatisfactory "status quo" that is not capable to address major challenges in the economic and security fields. The forces who care about the Modernity project - based on the attempt to combine secularism, liberalism, democracy and socialism - are in desperate need of a unifying project, a change in perspective, constructive and reasonable, that can give hope and a future to our society.

The fact that young people are the most in favour of European integration is already an indication of what might be the only credible plan to curb populist nationalism and save democracy and open society. After Brexit and Trump's election a radical proposal for change is needed. This can only be the completion of European unification, with the creation of a democratic and legitimate federal government, responsible in front of the Parliament, endowed with the powers to carry truly European fiscal, economic, foreign, security and defence policies. Nationalism is imposing a new political cleavage between the people and the elites, which favours it. A new ambitious European project will turn it into a cleavage between a European future and nationalist past, a constructive ideal and a destructive myth.

In a global world increasingly dominated by power politics and continent-wide states a united Europe is our only chance to face the challenges in front of us.

We can learn something from the American electoral campaign: we shall be stronger together to make Europe great again.

in collaboration with Luca Martinelli



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