The recent decision by the United States to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has furthered political division in the European Union. In December, Czech President Miloš Zeman called the European Union “cowards” for its lack of desire to follow the lead of the United States. Germany and France, meanwhile, believe that Washington’s move endangers a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
Around the same time that Zeman spoke out, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán blocked a joint EU statement condemning the United States’ decision. As a result of this veto, the European Union does not have a joint position on the question of Jerusalem. This kind of discord frustrates EU federalists, who believe that the 27 member states should have a common foreign policy.
This is far from the only instance in which heads of Central European nations aspire to think and act like U.S. President Donald Trump.
Back in July, Trump was delighted by the warm welcome he received on his state visit to Poland. In Berlin, demonstrations against the G20 meeting dragged thousands onto the streets. But in Warsaw, Trump’s team was able to breathe easy. Vice News’ Michael Moynihan described the situation as follows: “There was a photo that I saw today [at the G20 protests in Hamburg, Germany] with an enormous sign, and it said ‘destroy capitalism.’ You see these all over. You’re not gonna see these in Poland. Capitalism was destroyed in Poland and the replacement really didn’t sit well with the Poles.”
In fact, a somewhat Reaganesque appreciation of capitalism paired with a nonchalant attitude towards an establishment political class is what Central Europe seems to like in Donald Trump. It’s an appreciation that happens to be reciprocal: Trump fanclub Breitbart.com delightedly headlined that Hungary’s PM Viktor Orbán is on Trump’s “to visit” list. Trump’s sympathy towards Orbán is sparked by the strong anti-immigration sentiments the Hungarian prime minister has expressed throughout the refugee crisis. Since the beginning of the war in Syria, thousands of displaced people have attempted to travel through Hungary in order to reach Germany. Hungary’s government has since constructed an immense border fence in order to hold off migrants coming in through neighbouring Croatia.
Zeman was one of the few European leaders to congratulate Trump on his electoral win. The Czech leader also said that he would vote for Trump if he could. Zeman, who pegs the success of his campaigns to rural areas, was re-elected to a second term last weekend. In Brussels, on the other hand, EU institutional relations with the Trump administration haven’t been amicable. Many European leaders consider Trump rude and dangerously unpredictable, to the extent that mocking the president has become an easy electoral sell in France, Germany, and Scandinavia.
But not all Europeans expect the same things when it comes to leadership. Europe’s West expects a diplomat and a leader who stands up for European interests, whatever those may be––particularly if they oppose the Trump presidency. This is reflected by electoral results: French candidate Marine Le Pen, Dutch politician Geert Wilders and the Alternative for Germany party all backed Trump and were unsuccessful in recent elections. In Western Europe, Trumpism doesn’t work.
In Central Europe, however, Trump is regarded as a figure to aspire to, not oppose. The polls reflect this trend. The Pew Research Center found that since Trump’s election, positive feelings about the U.S. president have remained virtually unchanged in Poland and Hungary. Meanwhile, they dropped up to 30 percentage in countries like Germany, Spain, and Sweden. In the Czech Republic, the last election followed this trend: Andrej Babiš is the country’s twelfth prime minister, with a net worth of $4 billion. After making a fortune in the agrochemical industry, Babiš proceeded to get involved in buying largely unprofitable media outlets. The plan: Use them as a tool to win elections. He ran after a number of political scandals in the previous government, ironically in order “to fight corruption and other ills in the country’s political system.” He then touted the country’s immense economic potential, and capitalized on growing skepticism towards the EU and immigration, which helped solidify his reputation as the “Czech Donald Trump.”
But imitating Trump is popular elsewhere. Last year in Austria, the electorate put its trust in a right-wing coalition between the conservative movement of Sebastian Kurz, who became the new chancellor, and the far-right Freedom Party. The last time that the far-right, which is staunchly anti-immigration, participated in government, the European Union triggered sanctions. Back in the early 2000s, in response to Austria’s new right-wing government, the other EU member states cut all bilateral contacts, such as state visits. Being too much to the right will get you marginalized inside the European Union. Sebastian Kurz, now in coalition with the same party, has also been compared to Donald Trump, with headlines in German outlets such as “Make Austria Great Again — the rapid rise of Sebastian Kurz”.
The harder Western European nations push back against Trump-style populism, the more emboldened newer members will become to rebel against the Brussels status quo. Divisions such as the one over Jerusalem will likely become more commonplace. In fact, these kind of diplomatic decisions could put comparably small Central and Eastern European nations on Trump’s radar.
The European Union’s strife has proven it is disconnected to its own members. The more you move towards the East, the less countries care about the politics of the person, and more the interests that a good relationship with the United States can bring. Meanwhile, Western Europe seems to be more preoccupied with how they can mock the U.S. president than how to work with him.
This article was first published by RealClear World.
Pictures are Creative Commons.
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