Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, a contributor to CNN and columnist for USA Today, is the author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.” He formerly served as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times in Asia and Europe and Paris correspondent for CBS News. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
David A. Andelman: Recent elections in Germany and France have set the stage for a new vision of Europe
Trump should capitalize on these changes and work with European leaders rather than against them, he writes
Donald Trump should be clicking his heels together this week: Europe suddenly looks like it might be ready to move very much in his direction.
First, in Germany’s national elections on Sunday, the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) surged from 0 to 94 seats in the 709-seat Bundestag (or parliament) – their first seats since the end of German fascism [in 1945] and the arrival of democracy in 1949.
Then, two days later, French President Emmanuel Macron, in a landmark speech outlining his vision of a New Europe, sought to seize the leadership role on the continent from Germany’s tenuously re-elected chancellor Angela Merkel.
There’s been no disguising the frosty atmosphere between Merkel and Trump ever since the first snubbed handshake in the Oval Office in March.
From climate change to Korea to immigration, the two leaders of their respective continents have collided and at best agreed to disagree – often quite publicly. At the same time, Macron and Trump have become best buddies, the American President even lusting after a military parade down Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue after he marveled at France’s Bastille Day festivities while sitting at Macron’s side in Paris.
But now, Merkel finds herself on the ropes. The parliamentary coalition that got her through her third term as chancellor has come unglued at the hands of a right-wing surge in Germany.
The nation has been divided by the welcome mat set out by Merkel for some one million Middle East refugees – and terrorist incidents that have killed and maimed scores in the past two years.
Now, Merkel is faced with the unenviable task of assembling a new coalition without her principal partner of recent years, the Social Democrats, who having themselves lost 40 seats in the Bundestag in their worst election showing since 1949, announced on election night they would not join Merkel’s party in government, instead opting to become the leading opposition movement in the Bundestag.
In turn, Macron didn’t waste any time promoting his own vision of Europe.
A master of political stagecraft, Macron chose for his speech the grand amphitheater of the Sorbonne, the great French university dating to 1257.
And his message was carefully designed to be no less historic, the French President proposing, as the French daily Le Monde put it, to “relaunch the European machine, deprived for years, according to him, of a long-term vision, enfeebled by a frenetic opening to the world and hamstrung by its bureaucracy, over-regulation and the need for unanimous decisions and above all restrained by Great Britain,” which is now on its way out of the EU after Britain’s Brexit vote.
Macron is clearly planning to go it alone in his crusade, even if Merkel or Trump on the outside are respectively unable or unwilling to do any heavy lifting to help.
He wants a centralized eurozone budget and Finance Ministry as the centerpiece for a stronger Europe based on five pillars: Technology, whose giants would be taxed continent-wide; progress on climate; progress on security and defense against terrorism including a “European intelligence academy, shared information gathering and training and a pan-European prosecutors’ office against terrorism”; controls on immigration; and progress on economy and commerce without some desperate search for unanimity among member states.
Macron seems to have prepared carefully for what many see as clearly a revolutionary initiative. Since his election last spring, he has, according to Le Monde, met individually with 22 of Europe’s 27 rulers.
Still, Macron’s message has not gone down well with everyone on the continent. As the conservative German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung put it, in a quip eagerly picked up by the French weekly Le Point, Macron has “put the cart before the horse” in looking for a greater European financial integration.
With an all but indefinite and ill-defined vacuum in Germany – and a Trump regime cheering, if distantly, in the background – Macron may be in a position to move Europe in the direction he envisions.
Sunday’s French Senate elections could cause some pain to Macron: his En Marche! movement failed to win the absolute majority he managed in the National Assembly vote in June. Still, at that time, he did beat back his own far-right, which won just 8 of 577 seats in France’s parliament – a sharp contrast to the power the right has now seized in Germany.
This presents Macron and Trump with an opportunity. While Merkel goes hat in hand toward the Greens and liberals to cobble together some kind of coalition in the Bundestag, she will still have to deal with a huge block of right-wing voters with few allies but those to her left. And Macron has now published a vision that could give Merkel no end of troubles as she grapples for a way to rule Germany effectively.
At the same time, Trump has to be smart enough to seize the opportunity that now with a single stroke has presented itself to him. Thus far he doesn’t seem to be able to see beyond his own ego. Macron, on the other hand, is an opportunist and could see his way to becoming Europe’s Trump-whisperer – the one European leader able to communicate with the American President.
Trump, of course, needs any friend he can get and in Europe that is precious few, especially as he’s alienated most western leaders with his stands on climate change, NATO and the Iran nuclear treaty.
If Macron succeeds, that would only cement his place as Europe’s unchallenged leader. If Trump doesn’t prove smart enough to go along – or his ego prevents him from doing so – Macron is already well along the way to setting himself to go it alone.
The events of this week could lead to a very different looking Europe, and potentially one more in tandem with the Trump vision, if only barely articulated or defined.
Now, it is up to Trump to understand how best to capitalize on this and work with this new Europe and Macron, rather than against them.