Will Donald Trump transform European politics?

The election of Donald Trump as US president is causing turmoil across the world.

The other side of the Atlantic cannot escape this. Leaders of European governments and of the EU itself are naturally taking a politically correct line, praising the new American leader as someone they are ready to “work with.”

Yet, a Trump administration might become a nightmare for all involved in the EU’s international relations; especially when it comes to dealing with Russia and the situation in Syria.

More worryingly, the repercussions of the US presidential election could have a wider, and longer-term, impact on European politics.

Indeed, nationalist and xenophobic forces are celebrating. Trump’s win represents victory for the far-right’s worldview. It shows how right-wing parties can borrow Obama’s slogan — “yes, we can” — and achieve electoral success with it themselves.

A 12-inch talking Trump doll is on display at a toy store in New York in September 2004.
A 12-inch talking Trump doll is on display at a toy store in New York in September 2004.

They are all hoping that a new era is on the march, with renewed prospects in national elections. “Global balance of powers are going to be redefined with the election of Trump,” suggested an excited Marine Le Pen, France’s National Front leader, in an interview with France 2.

Trump is revitalizing the French far-right. He is already affecting domestic politics in France: a Rassemblement Bleu Marine MP, Gilbert Collard, claimed that the French ambassador in Washington should be replaced because he backed the Democratic candidate and apparently “seriously insulted” Trump.

In other words, European right-wing politics is trying to capitalize, in one way or another, on Trump’s anti-Islam, anti-immigrant, anti-elites, and “nationalist” victory.

These parties, all over the old continent, are rightly claiming to be the only ones which were openly supportive of the President-elect during the campaign. Politicians like Nigel Farage, leader of the UK’s anti-EU UK Independence Party, appeared on Trump’s side, giving a speech at a Republican rally.

After election night, this significant Brexiteer pointed out how this political story of the new century was really looking like a “supersized Brexit.”

The Telegraph newspaper even suggested that Farage might become a sort of unofficial link for British conservatives and the current UK government among Donald Trump’s circles, though the British government has since denied this story.

Another interesting question facing Europe is whether or not the EU’s approach toward Russia will change and, consequently, will economic sanctions be lifted? Trump and Putin have spoken warmly of each other in recent months.

Matteo Salvini, from the far-right Italian Lega Nord, and a close European ally of Le Pen, openly suggested that the US President-elect was good for Italy as the country was prominently exporting in Russia before the sanctions. Salvini also posted a picture with Trump, and enthusiastically posted on his Facebook page: “Viva Trump, viva Putin, viva la Le Pen e viva la Lega!” This should tell a lot on the way it is seen abroad, but also about the international implications of this story.

Putin “supports” Trump and parties like the National Front. The far-right supports both Putin and Trump (as they represent strong, nationalist leaders). This is new: Russia and America are traditionally the old enemies.

The question for the European elites is how to react to this when many other problems face the continent. They can only fight on so many fronts — especially when they seem to be losing the battle.

A new, and very uncertain, political phase may be opening, and it is a worrying one.

Andrea Mammone is a historian of modern Europe at Royal Holloway, University of London. The opinions in this article are those of the author.

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