The ‘Trump Effect’ Hits Europe

America’s vassal states of Europe were expecting a Hillary Clinton victory and were gearing up for a New Cold War with Russia, so Trump’s win has sent shock waves across the Continent, reports Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

The Swedish Nobel Prize Committee is to be congratulated for its prescient selection of Bob Dylan as this year’s Laureate of the Prize for Literature because his signature song “The Times, They Are A-Changing” captures impeccably where we stand today in the international landscape after Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. elections on Nov. 8.

The impact of the “Trump effect” on Europe’s politics is most identifiable in France, where its significance is hard to overstate, but the ramifications are likely to be felt across the Continent in the next year.

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon. (Photo credit: European Peoples Party)

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon. (Photo credit: European Peoples Party)

In the French primaries to select the candidate of the center-right Republican Party, heir to the Gaullist political legacy, voters advanced a contender who has been implementing the same political formula that propelled Trump’s victory – a call for fundamental change in the direction of government policies, a populist rejection of the elites based in the nation’s capital, assertion of traditional conservative social values of the provinces that involve rejection of multiculturalism, and a call for a “realist” as opposed to “values-driven” foreign policy that leads specifically to friendlier relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Francois Fillon, who has served in various ministerial posts in the 1990s and early in the new millennium – and was prime minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy for five years – was hardly a dark-horse outsider like Trump. Yet, in the current race for the presidency, Fillon was largely discounted by the media and professionals whose attention went primarily to whether Sarkozy’s latest bid would be stopped. There was less interest in who would stop him within the party and why. In that sense, Fillon’s victory has taken the French political world by surprise.

The chances of the Socialists in the next national elections are virtually nil with President Francois Hollande’s personal approval rating down to the unprecedented level of 4 percent. Thus, the great likelihood is that the candidate from the Republicans, Fillon, will win the French presidency in the national election against the candidate of the far right, Marine Le Pen.

Fillon has adopted many of the most popular positions of the National Front, leaving behind only their rejection of European Union membership and its currency, the euro, which probably is a step too far for most of the electorate. Interestingly, issued an editorial this weekend backing Fillon as the best-placed politician to keep Le Pen from power; the news agency swallowed whole Fillon’s many policies that follow in the tracks of Donald Trump, whom the very same agency, like nearly all mainstream U.S. media, portrayed as the new Satan.

Unlike the U.S. media coverage of Trump, there was nary a word about Fillon being a supposed tool of Putin, although his opponent Alain Juppé played that card in the last week, much as Hillary Clinton tried to do against Trump.

On Nov. 25, the online poll of the newspaper of the Right, Le Figaro, considered Fillon the winner of the last televised debate the night before 71 percent to 29 percent. Juppe’s attempts to use Hillary Clinton claptrap about Russian influence succeeded with the French voters no better than it did in the U.S. The second round of primaries balloting on Nov. 27 bore out the clear trend, ending in a victory for Francois Fillon with 67 percent of the votes cast.

Alliance with Russia

Fillon has called repeatedly for forging a genuine alliance with Russia to defeat ISIS, and this will be a central demand of French foreign policy if he comes to power, meaning that the anti-Russian sanctions policy of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel will likely end.

President Barack Obama talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, Germany, June 8, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, Germany, June 8, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

To be sure, attempts to see the long hand of the Kremlin in the Fillon candidacy had, in fact, more justification than the total fabrication of lies that were used against Trump to assert the same point. A year ago at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Fillon was a featured speaker and panelist in discussions with Putin. Fillon’s Russia-friendly statements were welcomed and given proper airing on Russian television. At the time, however, Sarkozy seemed to have the Right to himself, and any bets on Fillon by the Kremlin seemed even less likely to pay off than the widely advertised loans given to Marine Le Pen’s party by a Moscow bank.

It’s also true that the driving force behind Fillon’s victory within his own party and his likely victory in the national elections in spring 2017 does not reside in an accommodation with Russia but in his plans for making his country great again, à la Trump.

Fillon’s policies to revive business and industry entail tackling the 35-hour work week that has made France uncompetitive; slimming the civil service which has sucked in an additional one million employees under Hollande in what was the only measure he implemented to combat unemployment that was durable; and raising the retirement age. All this will require great political skills and courage, but if he does succeed, Fillon holds out the prospect that France will become the strongest country in the E.U. within 10 years.

That is an ambition that has been totally absent in France during the past decade or more of decay and national humiliation, including several high-profile terror attacks attributed to Islamic radicals. In the recent debate, Fillon called the E.U.’s current foreign policy insane. Very early in a Fillon presidency the sparks would be sure to fly between Paris and Berlin as they vie for leadership of the E.U.

This prospect of a power struggle between the driving countries of the E..U is entirely healthy, and more constructive than all the Euroskeptic attacks on the E.U. from the far right that have bubbled up since the U.K.’s Brexit referendum to leave the E.U.

A Key Retirement

The past week brought another major political development at the general European level, the announcement that Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, is retiring from that post in order to return to German domestic politics, where he is expected to be named as the candidate of the Social Democrats (SPD) for Chancellor in the federal German elections scheduled for next autumn.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 10, 2015, at the Kremlin. (Photo from Russian government)

Russian President Vladimir Putin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 10, 2015, at the Kremlin. (Photo from Russian government)

Schulz’s departure has great importance on two counts: what it means for the prospects of Angela Merkel, the current favorite to remain in power with nearly 50 percent favorable ratings in latest polls despite all of her political missteps over the past year; and what it means for the European institutions considering who may be Schulz’s successor at the helm of the Parliament.

As regards the internal German politics, Schulz is likely to bring greater dynamism to the SPD cause than the leader he would be replacing, Sigmar Gabriel, who is Vice Chancellor in the CDU-SPD coalition government. But it is hard to see how even an energized SPD can hope to win majority control of the Bundestag on its own or in coalition with prospective partners such as the Greens.

Therefore, the greater likelihood would be yet another coalition with Merkel, with whom in the important area of foreign policy and German control over E.U. institutions Schulz is surely on the same wave length. Both stand for a “values-based’ as opposed to “realist” foreign policy, meaning in particular continuation of Cold War behavior and continuation of anti-Russian sanctions.

There are some in the liberal wing of the SPD who hope Schulz can be turned around once he spends more time in country and in discussion with his fellow party members. However, as recently as his keynote speech to the plenary session of the Boris Nemtsov Forum held in the European Parliament building on Nov. 16, Schulz was an enthusiastic defender of “liberal democratic” (read: neoconservative) guiding principles for seeking “regime change” in Russia and other allegedly authoritarian countries, stridently rejecting calls for a more reasoned approach from those within the E.U. itself (read: Hungary) and those abroad (read: Donald Trump’s America).

The Neocons’ Great Hope

The vacancy left behind by Schulz logically should be filled by a parliamentarian from one of the Right’s parties, following the tradition of alternation in power of Right and Left (Schulz having occupied the post on behalf of the Left). In this connection, one name now being put forward cannot be ignored, Guy Verhofstadt, former Prime Minister of Belgium and long-time leader of the Alliance of Democrats and Liberals (ALDE).

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.

There are many good reasons why Verhofstadt’s candidacy for the post must be taken with all seriousness even if his contingent in the Parliament (10 percent of the house) is considerably smaller than the European People’s Party, the main center- right grouping.

He is without question one of the intellectually strongest parliamentarians and has been a highly visible campaigner for European federalism, which is the most principled response that the Center can produce to the Euroskeptics and which is all the more relevant if indeed Trump’s plans to cut U.S. contributions to the European defense and thus requires the creation of a European Army.

Verhofstadt was a regular speaker at the pro-federalist Spinelli Group events in Brussels calling for a United States of Europe. In 2012, he co-authored the handbook for a federal union with a founding member of the German Greens Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Debout l’Europe. Before the 2014 European-wide parliamentary elections, he campaigned for federalism in a number of countries across the Continent.

At the same time, Verhofstadt ensconced in the European Parliament would represent a “last stand” of U.S. neoconservatives with whom he has been closely aligned, taking part in various events sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative of Robert Kagan and William Kristol. It would align the Parliament with the anti-Kremlin policies that Verhofstadt has personally authored and promoted for much of the past decade in cooperation with his party’s colleagues among marginally seditious Russian Opposition politicians that included Parnas group of Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov.

Typically, Guy Verhofstadt was one of the key organizers of the Boris Nemtsov Forum and introduced Martin Schulz from the dais. Verhofstadt as President of the European Parliament would mark a sharp split with Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch. Juncker is not a crusader but a “realist.” Such a split would probably ensure that for the foreseeable future the European Parliament would be just a talking shop with little real power.

So, the past week has shown that there is and will be movement of enormous importance in Europe both inside the European institutions and between the European institutions and the E.U.’s key Member States in 2017. That’s without even considering the possible nipping at the E.U.’s heels by the Euroskeptics from the smaller and more marginal Member States or the challenges to the status quo in Europe that will come from Donald Trump’s administration, including from his likely search for compromises and relaxation of tension with Russia.

These elements, acting separately or in combination, seem likely to have but one outcome: the end of the New Cold War and a rise in realism over ideology in international affairs.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.


19 comments for “The ‘Trump Effect’ Hits Europe

  1. Oleg
    December 3, 2016 at 01:09

    I write now from Moscow where I have spent the past 3 months and intend to spend at least another year. And I should say that, after reading this piece, I caught myself at yawning. Yeah, it is early Saturday morning here but the reason is different. While it is nice that Europe is starting to see some reason, we here in Russia basically do not care much about Europe anymore.

  2. November 30, 2016 at 16:50

    Mr. Doctorow’s essay lost me with its opening paragraph: “The Swedish Nobel Prize Committee is to be congratulated for its prescient selection of Bob Dylan as this year’s Laureate of the Prize for Literature because his signature song ‘The Times, They Are A-Changing’ captures impeccably where we stand today in the international landscape after Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. elections on Nov. 8.” You’ve got to be kidding. Please tell me you’re kidding! Say, “Joe, I’m kidding.” Sadly, he’s serious.

    Another pampered multimillionaire who was also handed an unearned Nobel prize, Barack Hussein Obama II, isn’t good enough for the fashionably-reclusive and role-playing Robert Allen Zimmerman; so they won’t be meeting at the White House after all. It’s a battle of the elitists! Mind, I’d like to read the rest of what Mr. Doctorow wrote but I’ve failed to penetrate his encomium-like introductory barricade.

  3. arnaud
    November 30, 2016 at 08:36

    The article lacks reference to the elections in Italy on Dec 5. 2016. Those results will probably be another Brussels debacle

    • Gilbert Doctorow
      November 30, 2016 at 09:13

      sorry, but as I made clear, Germany and France are the traditional locomotives of Europe. Everybody else is along for the ride….

      • RAB3L
        December 1, 2016 at 18:11

        I think you’ll find that the UK has a higher GDP than France and well ahead of Russia.

  4. Abe
    November 29, 2016 at 17:21

    “We should not imagine for one second that the Patriarchy– those loveless old men like David Rockefeller or George Herbert Walker Bush or unnamed others– were so overwhelmed by the political genius of candidate Trump emerging from every scandal more powerful than before, that they were surprised, out-foxed, and just groaned and let it happen.

    “The Trump Presidency has been planned in minute detail by them and their think tanks. Quite simply, had they continued the policies that Hillary Clinton represented–war and confrontation against Russia, against China, with Color Revolution destabilizations of any and all political leaders who opposed them whether Ghaddafi or Mubarak or even Putin–they saw they were losing power over huge parts of the world, essential geopolitical power.

    “When a President of the relatively tiny American former colony fears not to openly attack by name an American President as ‘son of a whore,’ and declare in China his Philippines’ ‘separation’ from the United States, when one country after the other comes closer in economic and political cooperation to Russia, to China and to their growing Eurasian economic cohesion around the One Bridge One Road Eurasian infrastructure great project, it was clearly time to install a Plan B President.

    “That Plan B is casino mogul Donald Trump, a political tabula rasa, a power-possessed person with a blackmail potential that will keep him on program for them […]

    “Donald Trump was put into office to prepare America for war, a war the banks of Wall Street and the US military industrial complex are not presently in a position economically or industrially or otherwise, geopolitically, to win. His job will be to reposition the United States for them to reverse the trend to disintegration of American global hegemony, to, as the Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz Project for the New American Century put it in their September, 2000 report, ‘rebuild America’s defenses.’

    “To do that preparation, a deception strategy that will fatally weaken the developing deep bonds between Russia and China will be priority. It’s already begun. We have a friendly phone call from The Donald to Vladimir the Fearsome in Moscow. Russian media is euphoric about a new era in US-Russia relations after Obama […] It’s classic Kissinger Balance of Power geopolitics–seem to ally with the weaker of two mortal enemies, Russia, to isolate the stronger, China. Presumably Vladimir Putin is not so naïve or stupid as to fall for it, but that is the plot of Trump’s handlers. Such a strategy of preventing the growing Russia-China cooperation was urged by Zbigniew Brzezinski in a statement this past summer.

    “Because he’s been selected (and not by us dear voters) to play a definite role–to shift tactics of global domination according to the basics of the 1992 Bush-Wolfowitz Doctrine–preempting any nation or group of nations in Eurasia from challenging American Sole Superpower hegemony–the selection of his Cabinet and key policy advisers, is vital. Here we can already see the outlines of the cast of characters who have been chosen to fill out the theater play called Trump Presidency, and the emerging new plot for reconfiguring the Sole Superpower strategy.”

    The Dangerous Deception Called The Trump Presidency
    By F. William Engdahl

    • FobosDeimos
      November 29, 2016 at 19:36

      I agree with Engdahl that Trump is indeed dangerous. He is certainly ready to surrender his presidency to a nasty bunch of paleolithic characters, but I do not agree that this is the result of any kind of brilliant Plan B. All the dark forces mentioned by Engdahl were desperately and genuinely rooting for Hillary, and they counted on the electorate to support her as the lesser evil. They certainly did everything they could to pump Trump up as the beast to be hated, but these guys never – in their wildest dreams – thought that Trump could win the election. However, with Trump being an arrogant, narcissistic gambler, who knows absolutely nothing of politics, he is happily throwing himself into the arms of the neocons and warmongers, as he knows that otherwise he would be impeached (or something worse) in a couple of months. The only tiny piece of hope is that his guts as a “businessman” are stronger than his sheer panic at being at the helm of theTitanic, so that he may move ahead with his original idea about building a good relationship with Russia. But that is a big “if”.

  5. FobosDeimos
    November 29, 2016 at 16:05

    Very interesting, as usual. I find it hard to put Fillon and Trump in the same category or “team”. Fillon is culturally conservative due to his traditional Catholic upbringing, but his economic policies are based on 1979 Thatcherism and 1980 Reaganomics. In other words, he is a bona fide neoliberal who has promised to fully rely on “market forces”. Trump sounds crazy on most topics, but he does not seem to be a neoliberal at all; on the contrary, he is a protectionist. The only thing that Fillon and Trump seem to share is their common desire to rebuild good relations with Russia, which is great news for mankind. Since Fillon and Putin are friends, I think that we can expect a rapid end to the hysteria that has plagued Europe since Obama and Hillary decided to demonize Putin. I also have my serious doubts about a Fillon win againts Marine Le Pen. Unlike Fillon, Le Pen is not pushing for “market” recipes to take France out of its stagnation. She is much closer to Trump in that regard, and if the French people draw the conclusion that Fillon means more of the same, a second round win for Le Pen becomes possible. The new cold war would also be over if the far right wins, as Doctorow points out.

  6. Herman
    November 29, 2016 at 13:33

    Hard to understand why Europe, and particularly the states bordering Russia don’t see the risks of continuing the Cold War. So they must see the benefits of a Cold War are greater than the risks. Simplistic, yes. But do the critics of a continuing Cold War understand why this is happening. Surely Poland must know what would happen if war broke out. Are there memories so short that they cannot know what happened when Colonel Beck defied Germany based on Churchill guarantees that England would stand with him. Both Russia and Germany divided it up and then Hitler overran it. No we have no Stalin or Hitler today, but the bordering countries face no less risk but not from Russia but us.

    To outsiders we suspect perks to the leaders of those countries, tangible economic benefits like military spending, but you have to wonder whether that is all. What is surprising is this willingness to beard the lion, knowing that Russia remembers Napoleon and Hitler and the great costs to the Russian people. So is there more? Must be. Knowing what it is a puzzle.

  7. James lake
    November 29, 2016 at 02:29

    This is an excellent description of the EU and why the majority in the UK voted to come out of this ideological grouping – where trade is no longer a priority just EU ideology and expansionism.

    The EU by its behaviour is ensuring its long term failure

  8. Secret Agent
    November 28, 2016 at 22:48

    Here is a “Russian Propaganda” video which accurately describes the European dilemma should Trump prove to be an isolationist.

    Basically without America, Europe is forced to choose between accommodation and trade with Russia, or war. Traditionally, they have chosen war.

  9. Tristan
    November 28, 2016 at 22:06

    Good points and views concerning the trajectory of the political tides in Europe. Unfortunately I think that the needed changes to correct the ideology based policies that are insinuated into the political structure of the free market globalized capitalists nations must be stronger and in a direction that more clearly refutes the free market globalization and its detriments to nations. The neoliberals/neocons are more powerful than understood.

    While we see changes, albeit small ones, the trajectory of the ideology driven policies and the entrenched politicians, powered by profits which power the system of inequity, add the enablers (ie; western media propagandists, the major media of the western nations under the umbrella of U.S. policy) and this remains unabashed in the quest to continue liberating the world for democracy (understanding what this means). As profits and hubris are the currency of these ideological globalists, and so much money is at stake, one ought to consider that while seemingly suffering from a one two punch (Brexit, Trump) they still have their hands on the levers of power and will not let loose, even when they are possibly defeated via elections or otherwise.

    The last 35+ years of power acquisition have placed so many of these ideologically bound people in power or positions of influence, it is such that they are never far from the ear of those in power or are indeed placed in positions of power regardless of implied political change Things will continue, under a different umbrella perhaps, or behind a different shower curtain, but having supped of the cup of power, and profited immensely from it, the hands of the elite free market globalists will not relinquish the vehicle which has provided so much to so few.

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 29, 2016 at 03:19

      What you speak to is so overwhelmingly embedded with inside our oligarchical establishment, that it leaves one breathless when contemplating how to deal with such a monster. The one thing the corporate globalize elite can see right before their very eyes is the citizenry of the Westem World are pretty much fed up with the whole oligarchical scheme of things. In order for the citizenry to push back against the establishments powerful weight the commoner needs leadership. I believe that the world is on the threshold of a new beginning requiring a reassessment to how we go forward, but I also deep down know that all this fuse about new game plans could be nothing more than more of the same old same old, but repackaged in a new box. Brexit and Trump’s winning the U.S. Presidential electionis is proof positive that there is a citizenry revolt going on at this very moment.

      There will always be someone at the highest point of the pyramid, and that the citizenry is going nowhere unless our financial gods The people have nothing left to bargain with, but to protest or petition against the oligarchs when and where needed. What else is left?

      While many are perturbed with Trump’s conflict of interest is as they should, I on the other hand see potential here. If Donald Trump put out a foreign policy based on spreading American opportunism then I would be much happier exporting hotel chains over funding a war of death with my tax dollars. Picture Trump with holdings in Moscow, Kiev, Beijing, Tehran, Damascus, and many other places….this would be fine with me, just one stipulation….NO WAR!

      Read this link about a German politician who has recently become stomping insistent for Germany exit NATO.

  10. Sally Snyder
    November 28, 2016 at 18:58

    While the world focuses on America’s declining relationship with Russia, here is a look at another potential conflict:

    The world’s best hope is that a Trump administration is reluctant to put their hand on the “hot button” that controls the U.S. military presence in the West Pacific.

    • Secret Agent
      November 28, 2016 at 23:12

      War with China is harder than you think. The Dongfeng missile means that the Navy can’t get within 800 km and the S400 antiaircraft system makes warplanes useless. They could impose a blockade, but Russia would supply them with everything they need.

      Basically, the NeoCon Ukraine gambit served to ruin American strategy since the time of Nixon, which was to ensure the the relationship Russia and China had with the US was more important to them than their relationship with each other. Decide and rule so to speak.

      Now they are allied and the result is a power base that equals the US and all its allies, and it controls the strategic Eurasian heartland.

      This makes masters of the greatest strategic fortress on the planet and renders the mighty USN kind of redundant.

      Look at a map and you will see that the US empire maintains toeholds on the Eurasian landmass at huge expense but after all these years has failed to make inroads on the strategic heartland.

      I think Trumps victory is in fact a victory of a faction of the American elite who recognise this epic failure and seek to regroup with what is a viable footprint.

      The other option was to double down on a strategic blunder of epic proportions with Hillary at the helm.

      I think we just avoided WWIII, though there is still a powerful faction that is desperate to get it on.

      • Joe Tedesky
        November 29, 2016 at 01:49

        Secret Agent coming from the angle of perspective you wrote about here, do you see Trump catching more bees with honey? Partner up with Russia, and bingo together we push China around, because God forbidden we do something all inclusive. Cynicism is involuntary…sorry. I also can see a lot of Sir Halford John Mackinder in our country’s game plan…maybe? Good comment Secret Agent, just had to add my two and a half cents in there.

        • Brad Owen
          November 29, 2016 at 05:43

          You might find this interesting, Joe: back in my early years I was a big fan of Edgar Cayce, the “sleeping prophet” (his utterances all occurred while he was asleep; he never knew what he said when he woke up). He had said that once the USA and Russia become friends, the whole World will greatly benefit and peace will reign( he also said if America fails to be “the light” to the World, that Torch, always traveling westward, will pass to China). Together we can continue to steer China along its’ “Win-Win” Silk Road policies.
          The Western Oligarchy (ancient, titled, ruling-class families of Europe and British Isles) is in a great strain to prevent this strategic friendship from ever happening, and currently have us firmly in their clutches (I think it’s hilarious that so many people think of the Western Empire as an American Empire; we’re their “bitches” supplying $ and cannon fodder for THEIR Empire at the people’s expense in treasure and blood).

          • Joe Tedesky
            November 29, 2016 at 10:50

            You are properly right about outside America forces driving the bus, because the bus driver doesn’t give a hoot about the passengers.

        • Secret Agent
          November 30, 2016 at 00:58

          Brezinski had said the only course left was to team up with Russia or China against the other, and suggested teaming up with China to go after Russia, but I don’t see what such an alliance has to offer.

          China and Russia have been around for eons and neither has sought to expand in the sense that they were happy to pacify barbarian tribes in their border areas, but when they encountered other civilisations they engaged in diplomacy instead. The classic example is Tang Dynasty relations with Korea and Japan. Also Russia conquered Europe twice, in 1813 and 1945. Both times as the result of being invaded, and both times they went home, though the Cold War delayed their departure after 1945. Though Trotsky advocated world revolution, Stalin rejected it.

          I think the mistake of American strategists is that they ascribe their own motives to the Russians and Chinese, they think that all big powers seek hegemony. This is because they fail to understand any worldview than their own, and indeed are probably not aware that other world views exist.

          Americas worldview is that it has a destiny and is going somewhere, from A to B so to say, whereas Asiatic people’s don’t really have a concept of destiny and merely exist in time. Also, having been around a long time they are keenly aware of the importance of stability and are adept at diplomacy and know that diplomacy has to work for every one. For America, diplomacy isnt seen as important and so you have people who are incapable of diplomacy in the State department like Vic Nuland, and Samantha Power, whose role is to set up conflicts and spread chaos rather than bring peace and prosperity.

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