The French people have spoken. Emanuel Macron will be the Republic of France’s next president. Marine Le Pen’s bid to win the presidency fell well short of the expectations of her and her party. Whereas Le Pen rode a wave of Brexit and Donald Trump inspired populism, Macron’s own political position was made up of a pseudo-socialist cloak that differs little in substance from the current president’s own positions.
What does this mean for France? Macron is portrayed as a centrist and political outsider by the European media. In reality, nothing is farther from the truth. He has held government positions in the past and is an avowed globalist. His policies as president will reflect his pro-European Union slant. He will attempt to bring France closer to the EU and its sphere. At a time when other European nation-states are rethinking their relationships with the EU, expect France to go all in, for lack of a better term. France’s future economic and trade policies will fall in line with what favors the financial policies dictated in Brussels, and, to a lesser extent, Berlin. Macron will also do everything possible to throw a wrench into Brexit negotiations. He’s very much opposed to Britain’s departure from the EU and his position there will have a very negative effect on UK-French relations in the future.
In the security and refugee realm, France will attempt to reach a compromise of sorts between continuing to accept large numbers of refugees and strengthening the borders of France. Francois Hollande made a similar attempt and it ended in near disaster for the Republic. France became no more secure and ISIS-inspired attackers were emboldened by the lack of effective defenses put up by the French government. The string of attacks across France in recent years contributed greatly to Hollande’s plummeting popularity. Marcon needs to accept and understand that his own political fortunes are inextricably tied to his ability to combat terrorism in France.
The aftereffects of the French election will take some time to materialize. It is fair to assume that France and Germany will spearhead an effort to rally the European Union. Despite the recent victories by pro-EU candidates across the continent, the future of the European Union continues to remain unclear. Europe’s populist movement is by no means dead, however, it has suffered a powerful setback. For the moment, Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel, and Jean Claude Juncker can breath a bit easier.
This afternoon President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May held a joint press conference as May’s visit to the United States comes to an end. Both leaders have hailed their talks as productive. The topics of discussion ranged from a potential post-Brexit trade deal to the situation in Syria, and Russia. Trump has agreed to a state visit to the United Kingdom later this year and it is safe to assume that we will be seeing Prime Minister May on this side of the pond quite often in the coming years. Suffice to say, the Special Relationship is intact and functioning.
The talks between May and Trump today were significant, however, Saturday could prove to be an even more pivotal day for the Trump administration’s foreign policy efforts. Trump and Vladimir Putin will speak by telephone tomorrow and the conversation could very well set the tone of US-Russian relations for the foreseeable future. Then again, maybe it will not. Despite the media speculation about the relationship between the two leaders, Trump has often remarked that he does not know anything about Vladimir Putin and the course that their relationship will take remains to be seen. Having said that, Trump has hinted at lifting some of the sanctions which the US has imposed on Russia. House and Senate Republicans have warned against the White House adopting a softer line with Russia. There have even been suggestions that legislation to enforce the sanctions might be pursued should Trump decide to lift them.
The President will also speak with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande tomorrow. These conversations will go a long way towards giving America’s other major allies a feel for the new president. Today, Hollande referred to the Trump administration as a challenge for Europe, identifying trade and diplomacy as areas of concern. Both European leaders are major proponents of the European Union and continental unity in the face of a myriad of external and internal threats facing Europe. Their views are contradictory to Trump’s own in many ways. Tension already exists between Merkel and Trump, in large part because of his taking her to task over her immigration policy and the consequences it has had for Germany and Europe. The close relationship that Merkel shared with Barack Obama will likely not be repeated with his successor.
Hollande has been outspoken in his dislike for Trump. During the 2016 US presidential election, the French leader made remarks to the effect that he found Trump’s behavior disgusting. The populist right wing tidal wave Trump rode to victory in 2016 is another cause for Hollande to be concerned. 2017 is a presidential election year for France and the Socialist president is likely to face a massive challenge from France’s own version of Donald Trump in Marine Le Pen, should Hollande chose to run.
In any event, after tomorrow Putin, Merkel, and Hollande should have relatively clear ideas about how their relations with President Trump and the United States will pan out, and Trump will have the same of them.
An apparent terrorist attack in the heart of Berlin days before Christmas. Berlin police have launched a new manhunt for the person responsible for the truck attack on a Berlin market that killed twelve and injured nearly fifty. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack as Berliners face the reality that there is a terrorist roaming armed and free in their city.
While all of this is taking place, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy is coming under renewed attack. Hours after the attack, a leading nationalist politician was referring to the victims as “Merkel’s dead.” This morning Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, a close ally of Merkel, said the time has come to rethink the chancellor’s immigration policy. In nine months she will be up for re-election and despite a comfortable 57% approval rating, yesterday’s attack showcased her vulnerability.
As a wave of nationalist populism surges across Europe and rearranges the political landscape in a number of nations, Merkel is aware that one false move could unleash that wave in Germany. Her handling of the refugee crisis has polarized German voters and set the nation’s politics into a period of uncertainty. Merkel’s center-right party has been losing ground in state elections to the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. While the chancellor has hardened her refugee policy in the second half of 2016, resulting in climbing approval numbers, the prevailing political winds, and this latest terrorist attack could be a menacing combination for Merkel to hurdle.
The general consensus in Berlin has been that Merkel is poised to win re-election in 2017. A terrorist attack on German soil has the potential to change the scenario and it might possibly be on the doorstep right now. 2017 could very well bring about a Trump Moment for Germany and put a left-leaning coalition in power. That scenario could potentially rock an already reeling European Union back on its heels and unleash many unforeseen circumstances across Europe and the world.
*Author’s Note- With the holiday season now upon us, most of this blog’s posts will be shorter than usual between now and New Years.*
With President Obama’s final trip to Europe underway, the reality is setting in that this trip is greatly overshadowed by the results of last Tuesday’s US Presidential Election. The reality that Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States has dropped a heavy blanket of uncertainty across the continent. Try as they might, many Europeans do not know what to make of Donald Trump. His campaign promises and the lack of detailed policies have unnerved European leaders and citizens alike. On the surface, Trump appears to be a leader prepared to disconnect the US from Europe in many regards. His position on issues such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis and debt relief for nations like Greece appear to contrast sharply with those of many European leaders. His insistence that America’s NATO partners pay their fair share towards defense leads many on the other side of the Pond to wonder just how solidly a Trump administration will support the alliance in a time of crisis.
Personally, I do not think Europeans have much to worry about. Yet that is another post for another time.
As it stands right now, Obama’s farewell trip has transformed from a promulgation of his foreign policy legacy to a mission of reassurance. The first stop was Greece where the main talking point has been Greek debt relief and not Trump. Obama is expected to throw his support behind “meaningful debt relief” for Athens. In 2015 the EU flirted with the prospect of a possible ‘Grexit.’ At one point it seemed more probable than not that Greece would withdraw or be removed from the EU and abandon the Euro. Fortunately for Europe, Alexis Tsipras did not drive his nation off the edge of the cliff and into the unknown. He begrudgingly accepted the stringent and somewhat humiliating austerity terms offered up to set Greece on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, Greece’s economy is not yet sustainable and will not be without further debt relief.
Tsipras is hoping that Obama can help persuade Germany to move forward with additional debt relief for Greece. The Greek Prime Minister has made debt relief a priority, calling for a new agreement by the end of 2016. His popularity at home has plummeted from enforcing measures he once swore would never have his support. Additional debt relief might be his only realistic chance to avoid being swept out of office at some point in 2017, and ironically, Obama is the last card he has left to play.
When President Obama arrives in Berlin on Wednesday Greece will be one of the subjects on the list. However, with the prospect of Donald Trump looking as if it will dominate talks between Obama and Merkel, there is no guarantee that additional debt relief for Greece will be discussed in depth or acted upon in the future.
On Monday, the European Union extended its sanctions against Russia for the next six months. The 28 member nations reached a consensus in spite of some question about how long the sanctions need to continue. Russia is a major trading partner of the EU, but since its annexation of Crimea and involvement in Ukraine’s separatist war, the EU has had punitive sanctions in place. These sanctions, along with similar measures put in place by the United States, have caused an economic slowdown in Russia. The extension will keep sanctions in place until July when they will be reviewed. A removal of the sanctions will be linked to the implementation of the Minsk agreements. With the agreements not likely to be put into effect anytime soon, the EU has used this as the justification for extending sanctions now.
A number of EU nations are becoming weary of the sanctions. Italy, which has long standing trade ties with Russia has been particularly outspoken on the issue. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has complained that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is forcing other EU nations to go along with the sanctions while Germany is engaging Russia in projects that are contrary to the terms of the sanctions. Renzi is specifically referring to a German-Russian plan to construct a natural gas pipeline between the two nations through the Baltic Sea. The project comes after a similar pipeline project that would have included Italy’s Eni energy company was cancelled last year.
As the EU hobbles toward 2016 it looks back on what has been a tumultuous and divisive year. The Paris terrorist attacks, Greece’s near exit from the EU, and the continuing refugee crisis have placed tremendous amounts of pressure on the member nations. From all indications, the coming year is not going to offer a reprieve for Europe. If anything, it is going to be worse.