How Europe Should Deal with Trump

Culture - July 2, 2024

European Diary: Cluj, June 2024

Cluj is a pleasant little city in the centre of Romania, in Transylvania. A Roman town was located there in antiquity, Napoca, and now the city is often called Cluj-Napoca. (Its old German name is Klausenburg.) The distance from Cluj to Bucharest, Budapest, and Belgrade, is about the same. Cluj has long been both the official and non-official capital of Transylvania which has however rarely been an independent or autonomous region, being ruled in turn by Hungarians, Turks, Austrians, Hungarians again, and Romanians. Today, Cluj is populated mainly by Romanians and Hungarians. It has many picturesque buildings from its long Habsburg era (1699–1918), and it is spotlessly clean, with lovely outdoors cafés in the centre where excellent Romanian wines are served. The population is relatively young, as it is a university town. I found myself on 30 June 2024 at a conference in Cluj at the largest university in Romania, Babes-Bolyai, ably organised by two outstanding female academics, Mihaela Rovinaru from the University’s Faculty of Economics and Business Administration and Barbara Kolm from the Austrian Economics Centre in Vienna. This was the European Resource Bank, an annual gathering of think tanks devoted to the exploration of the possibilities of spontaneous cooperation in the free market instead of commands from above.

Whither the EU?

I was asked to give a talk about the EU after the recent elections to the European Parliament. I pointed out that European voters were demonstrating in one election after another that they were not going to tolerate two consequences of EU policies, uncontrolled mass immigration and the destruction of the nation state as a preliminary to the construction of a European federal state. The EU had been a force for good in its first thirty-five years, from 1957 to 1992 when its goal had been to increase competition (cheap goods and services to consumers) by establishing the internal market. But there had been a tacit change of the European project, at least as pursued by the Brussels elite, in the early 1990s. Instead of furthering the original idea of a Europe of nation states occupying a vast free trade area, and in a defence alliance with the United States—the mightiest military power the world has seen—the Brussels elite wanted to impose on the Europeans a United States of Europe, a rival rather than an ally of the United States of America. The economic integration of the 1957–1992 period had been desirable and successful, but the political integration since then was not supported by a majority of European voters. ‘Political integration’ was really a euphemism for ‘centralisation’.

EU was here to stay, I said in my talk. The task was to reform it. I suggested several reforms, mainly to reinforce the Subsidiarity Principle on which the original idea of a peaceful and prosperous Europe was built (that political decisions should be taken as close to those affected by them as possible): 1) The Court of the European Union which had acted as an unaccountable centralising force should be split into two courts. One would deal with ordinary legal issues. The other court, the Subsidiarity Court, should only deal with matters of competence between the EU and its member states. It should apply one test to all disputed EU statutes and measures: Is this in accordance with the Subsidiarity Principle? The judges should be selected from a pool of experienced judges, not solely from euromantics like now. 2) The European Commission should become an ordinary civil service, without legislative power. 3) The European Parliament should become the lower house of a new parliament, where the upper house would be the European Council. These two bodies would share the legislative power transferred to them from the European Commission. This lower house would, unlike today’s European Commission, be accountable to the public. 4) The European Central Bank should return to a strict compliance with its original charter. It should focus on producing sound money, instead of trying to solve the problems of fiscally irresponsible European governments.

Dealing with Biden

One topic discussed extensively at the conference was the present extraordinary political situation in the United States. The mightiest military power in history, which has twice saved Europe from totalitarianism (in the Second World War and in the Cold War), is led by an obviously senile person surrounded by a clique of radicals. I expressed the opinion, based on my experience of politics in the last fifty years, that Joe Biden, although unfit to be president, both now and in the future, would not quit unless forced to do so. He would have to be dragged out, although probably not kicking and screaming. He would not be persuaded by any sweet talk from Democratic grandees. He already had plenty of money in the bank and an obligation by delegates at the Democratic Convention in August to vote for him. His family and his staff, trying to protect their positions, would egg him on. It was however more than likely if he would stand that he would lose to Donald Trump in the election. His physical and mental condition could only get worse.

What could the Democratic establishment do to force him out and avoid electoral disaster? Two possibilities were mentioned in informal discussions at the conference. One was that he would become convinced that if he did not quit, the 25th Amendment would be invoked, according to which the Vice President and the majority of the Cabinet would decide that he was incapacitated. If the threat was viable, he might quit voluntarily. The other possibility was the threat that the Department of Justice would start really investigating all the business deals and foreign bank accounts of the Biden family (not his personally, it should be emphasised) and his own possible connivance of them. If Biden realised that this threat was real (and it would come from his close friends and allies in the Democratic Party), he might quit voluntarily.

Dealing with Trump

If Trump would become president, how should Europe deal with him? Unfortunately, Trump has sent misleading signals to the four wolves which wait in their dark alleys for any signs of American weakness, Putin in Russia, Xi in China, Khameini in Iran, and young Kim in North Korea. But his sheer unpredictability might restrain them. Moreover, admittedly Trump was right that the European countries should themselves pay for their defence and not rely only on the United States. North America and Europe should be in an alliance, not a relationship of dependency. They should reinforce each other. It is to be hoped that such an alliance could be maintained and strengthened. Where I disagree strongly however with Trump (or at least with some of his utterances, as he keeps changing his opinions), is about free trade. The case for free trade is unassailable, as anyone who has read Adam Smith and Frédéric Bastiat can attest. But again Trump is partly right about China. The fact is, as historian Niall Ferguson has persuasively argued, that Xi, apparently with the support of the Chinese Communist Party, some time ago began a Cold War against the Free World. The task therefore is to develop a vast and well-defended free-trade area without the four countries that are real threats to the Free World, Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. This free-trade area could extend to Europe, the two Americas, Oceania, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other Asian countries, and hopefully to Africa. Why should the EU confine free trade only to its own member states, becoming a ‘Fortress Europe’ surrounded by tariff walls? Why could North Africa, India and Brazil not take over the role of China as the providers of labour services cheaper than those available in Europe and North America?

These are of course mere speculations. Perhaps Biden quits, and perhaps Trump does not win, and perhaps something else, totally unexpected, happens. Or, as a Danish wit once said, it is difficult to predict, especially about the future.