Many Europeans have never understood Nigel Farage. His objective was never just Brexit. His real ambition is the collapse of the European Union.
Enter (soon to be) President Trump. He celebrated Brexit as “a great thing”. He has also repeatedly said he will “Appoint tough and smart trade negotiators to fight on behalf of American workers”. So how is he going to get those better deals and prove to his voters that he is doing business better? By picking a fight with China? No, rather on the advice of his friend Nigel, it will be by playing European countries off, one against the other.
The EU is, after all, a very easy target for a clever business man with a flair for the deal. President Trump will start by promising to strike a major new free trade with the UK just as soon as it has left the EU. The message will be clear: dump the EU, and you will get preferential treatment.
It will continue by Trump refusing to attend any direct summits with the EU institutions or the numerous EU presidents (and you cannot really blame him for that – both President Obama and even ex-PM Renzi say these summits are a waste of time).
The pressure will then be raised on selective Member States which are seen as hold-outs against Trumpian pressure. Expect Germany to be presented with additional bills for having US soldiers based on their territory, and the Trump administration making it harder for German and French businessmen to travel to the US, whilst on the contrary, Brexit British, as well as “Muslim migrant-free EU hold outs” like Poland and Hungary get rewarded with super-fast business access.
And let us be honest: it will not take much for the EU to grind to a halt. As the atmosphere sours, many Europeans will start claiming that the EU (not the US) is at fault, and, in case you forget it, Nigel will be out on the ground doing his hardest to make sure that Member States are queuing up to leave, starting with Ireland, but with plenty of other stops on his route.
Boris Johnson may not have been seeking the destruction of the EU, but he will certainly be smiling. After all, if the EU collapses, he will not have to deal with the messy reality of post-Brexit life outside the EU – rather he will have been the prescient visionary who saved the UK from the “inevitable collapse”. He can turn to Theresa May a bit sooner than planned and tell her it is now his turn for the job at the top. So expect a helping leg to trip-up any EU initiatives whilst the UK still has a seat at the table and can prevent something from happening by blocking unanimous agreement.
Given this background, Vladimir Putin may also not even need to deploy his little green men to the Baltic states in order to secure a collapse of the EU, or at least to reduce the attractiveness of the EU for Ukraine, Georgia, or any other parts of the former Soviet Union. But President Putin is a wise man who will not underestimate his enemy (as so many have underestimated Messrs Farage and Trump). He will deploy his considerable “Air War” resources, financing anti-EU populists, having “Russia Today” amplify any reports of impending EU collapse – and Wikileaks release secret emails hacked by Russian services detailing EU failings and Member States spying on each other (where the truth will, as always, be leavened by some plausible lies).
All doom and gloom? Yes, if the EU sticks with the current structures and sits like a rabbit in the lights of an on-coming truck. Can something be done? Yes. But it would require vision, and then symbolic and real action. At present, those in power in the EU are not showing any great vision. Outsiders must therefore provide some new thinking – and the citizens need to start with bottom-up reform…
Adrian Taylor (23/12/2016)