This is where Trump’s conspiracy comes back into the picture—it is the notional inverse of de Villiers’ but the two are construed in similarly fact-free ways to fit a pre-baked dislike of the EU. Trump’s wildly inaccurate remark last Tuesday about the EU’s founding in no way obviates America’s gradual reversal of fortune from a distant patron to a collateral loser from the European project. The feckless under-spending on defense in most of the bloc’s member states and their thinly veiled trade protectionism were causing American fatigue long before Trump’s win in 2016, and the measurable cost of this to America’s treasure would be a far wiser focus of his EU-bashing. On the former, EU leaders’ extolling of transatlantic loyalty has worked as a cop-out to distract from their disloyal under-spending on their militaries, consistently afoul of NATO’s 2-percent-of-GDP requirement. The bloc is on this score akin to a housemate with decades’ worth of arrears claiming to stand alone for your friendship and calling you disloyal unless you let him rip you off a month longer. With allies like these, who needs China?
The EU’s hypocrisy is similarly noxious on trade, where it campaigns globally for low tariffs and boundless competition while doggedly clinging to its own trade barriers and state subsidies for the same protectionist motives it chastises in others. In Brexit messiah Nigel Farage’s words, the EU is a customs union disguised as a free-trading bloc—the level of market harmonization its members internally enjoy isn’t accessible to the outer world. In other words, “free trade for thee but not for me” nicely captures the EU’s trade motto. This has been conspicuous throughout the now-stalemated TTIP negotiations, but even more so after the U.S.-EU trade deal plan died a silent death with Trump’s election—TTIP or not, the EU remains intractably wedded to high tariffs on cars and agriculture while crying out protectionism when Trump threatens to match them with the United States’ own. And all this is not to speak of regulations on technology or the environment, where the EU’s zeal poses a measurable economic cost on America’s global dynamism—Columbia University’s Anu Bradford labels this the Brussels Effect—while using international fora to advance a green agenda that unevenly spreads costs between high-polluters like China and low-polluters like the United States—in that latter case, for no real benefit to EU members.
This is the ugly truth the blob needs to hear—the same EU that initially benefited from American patronage today free rides on American largesse and naïveté. Perhaps Trump—and de Villiers—would be better advised to drop the conspiracy theorizing and address instead the EU’s undermining of transatlantic trust head-on. There’s a better Trump quote for this: “I want Europe to pay.”
Jorge González-Gallarza (@JorgeGGallarza) is a writer in Madrid and an associate researcher at Fundación Civismo.