Never let it be said that “nobody cares about Europe”. Just this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Austria’s new President Alexander Van der Bellen and US President Donald Trump’s likely ambassador to the European Union, Ted Malloch, have been weighing in on the bloc’s future.
Also giving their opinion on the EU are the new US Defence Secretary, James (Mad Dog) Mattis, and Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, the secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation — although the two men have obviously been voicing different concerns.
First, the good news. Hallelujah. In a rousing and upbeat speech, Prime Minister Trudeau told the European parliament this week that the EU was vital to the world’s peace and prosperity.
For an EU, which seems to be in the grips of what European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker refers to as a “collective depression”, Trudeau’s words were a godsend.
The EU was an unprecedented model for cooperation and an effective European voice on the global stage, he insisted, adding: “The whole world benefits from a strong EU.”
In another much-needed pep talk to the European parliament, Austria’s newly elected President Alexander Van der Bellen insisted that “the European idea is great…it is unique. It is worth all the effort”.
The Austrian leader, who defeated his populist rival in cliff-edge elections last year, said he was the living proof that it was possible to reject “burgeoning nationalism, protectionism, the seductive, simplistic populism”.
“No single problem will be solved by violating people’s dignity, rejecting everything that is different, restricting fundamental rights, constructing new walls and nationalism. We will only create new problems,” he said.
Van der Bellen’s election is important given the current popularity of far-right parties in France and the Netherlands — and even in Germany — amid fears that populists may win in the upcoming polls.
But it hasn’t been only good news for the EU. Their once all-weather ally, the United States, has been sending warnings that the bloc can no longer rely on Washington’s support in the difficult years ahead.
Ted Malloch, the man who could be the next US ambassador to the EU, wrote in the influential The Parliament Magazine this week that “the failure of the European integration project should by now be self-apparent to everyone”.
“This is simply not something Churchill or Roosevelt would countenance. The European Union has become undemocratic and bloated by both bureaucracy and rampant anti-Americanism,” Malloch intoned.
Malloch, who is yet to be confirmed in the post, went on to insist that the Trump administration was no longer interested in the old forms of European integration. Instead it believed that other EU states could follow the Brexit model by opting out of the EU.
Not surprisingly Malloch has been denounced as unsuitable to be the US envoy to the EU. Many in Europe believe the EU should refuse to accredit him as the US ambassador.
Europe’s anger at Malloch’s statements is understandable. Truth hurts. But in fact Malloch has done the EU a favour by articulating — very clearly — the new US administration’s view of the EU and its future.
The would-be US ambassador sketches how he believes transatlantic relations will look like under the Trump administration. These comments are a wake-up call for Europe to stop living in America’s shadow and to forge a distinct identity — with its strengths and flaws — in this challenging new era.
The inconvenient truth is that the world is changing and the EU — like other countries — should adapt to it. With the US no longer rooting for Europe, the EU must work harder to stand proudly alone — and work with other partners that it has tended to neglect or treat perfunctorily in the past.
Malloch isn’t the only American warning Europeans to shape up. US Defence Secretary James Mattis reassured Nato allies this week that unlike his boss who has called the alliance “obsolete”, he believed that Nato was a “bedrock”.
But he also stressed that the president is serious when he demands that other Nato members must spend more on defence. Otherwise, he warned, America might “moderate its commitment to the alliance”.
Elaborating further, he said that Washington wanted a more determined push by some Nato members to meet their obligation to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence.
Which brings us to the OIC secretary general and his appeal to the EU to build a more inclusive society, where Muslims were recognised as fully fledged citizens of Europe.
Significantly, even as the OIC spoke to EU officials in Brussels, EU member state Hungary announced that it intended to round up all asylum seekers and detain them in shipping container camps.
The proposals, which will be considered by Hungary’s parliament this month, follow the introduction of tough criminal sanctions and new security measures along Hungary’s fortified southern border.
If adopted, the controls will further tighten Europe’s strictest asylum regime by automatically detaining all migrants aged 14 or over in fenced-off transit zones for the duration of their asylum applications.
The European Commission has warned that such moves — and others implemented in Hungary — are illegal.
But it doesn’t look like Hungarian leader Viktor Orban is any mood to listen.
So the good news is that yes, everyone has a view on Europe’s future. But the bad news is that EU leaders appear more lost than ever in charting a future course for the bloc.__Dawn.com