Europe on Pins and Needles
We follow American presidential campaigns carefully in Europe. We follow them almost as carefully as we follow our own national elections, no matter which European country you go to. My home country of Denmark is no exception.
Yet this election is different from previous contests. This time Europe is holding its collective breath to see whether the next American president will be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Not that there is any great European excitement for the Clinton candidacy, yet the alternative worries us.
Mr. Trump has said very harsh things about several European politicians. He has questioned the fundamentals of the NATO alliance, threatened to cancel the United Nations climate agreement reached last year in Paris, and has made it clear that the whole idea of global trade is something President Trump would look upon with suspicion.
This has led several prominent European leaders to do something unusual when it comes to U.S. presidential elections: They have not only taken a stand in favor of Mrs. Clinton, they have also issued dire warnings to their own people about what they see as the ominous consequences of a Trump presidency. They have also denounced Trump in starkly personal terms.
After Trump got into a public spat with the Kahn family after the Democratic National Convention, French President Francois Hollande said Trump made him want to throw up. “His excesses end up giving a retching feeling...especially when -- as was Donald Trump's case -- he speaks ill of a soldier, of the memory of a soldier," Hollande told reporters in Paris.
“His excesses make you want to retch.”
It is not every day that the leader of a powerful American ally says something like this about one of the two candidates for the American presidency. Yet Hollande wasn’t alone.
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump’s proposed ban on immigrants from Muslim countries “divisive, unhelpful, and quite simply wrong.”
“Let's be clear, Donald Trump is an idiot,” is the way British MP Gavin Newlands of the Scottish National Party described the Republican nominee. “I have tried to find different, perhaps more parliamentary adjectives to describe him but none was clear enough. He is an idiot.”
“If Donald Trump was to end up as president of the United States,” said former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, “I think we better head for the bunkers."
In my own country of Denmark, Trump is perhaps the most uinifying figure on the national scene. Even Soren Espersen, a spokesman for right-leaning, EU-skeptical Danish People’s Party, has said that a Trump victory would be a likely “catastrophe” for Europe. “He’s an avowed admirer of Vladimir Putin and it would be a disaster for international politics if Trump gets anywhere near the nuclear button,” Espersen added.
About the only silver lining in the Trump image clouding the minds of my countrymen is that he might not mean all the stuff he’s been saying.
“He changes opinions,” said Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen, “like the rest of us change underwear.”
So much for the normal diplomatic niceties of saying that we will respect the decision of the American people and that we look forward to collaborating with the next American president and that we are certain whoever is elected will be working to maintain and evolve the strong relationship between Europe and the United States—and blah, blah, blah.
This time is different. This time, when America chooses its next president on Tuesday, Europe will be watching carefully. Because we still want a close and strong relationship with the United States, as has been the case for decades now. Partly our concern is a testament to America’s great power and influence. And although we can’t vote ourselves, we are impacted. President Hollande put it best. “If the Americans choose Trump that will have consequences,” he said, “because an American election is a world election.”