Brexit and Europe’s Trumpist Future


There’s a sufficiently large number of countries within the EU whose leadership and influential political actors will not rule out the possibility of leaving the EU or, at least, the common euro zone. So, they are not interested in making the UK’s exit as painful as possible. Iit is clear why Trumpism is already influencing political developments in the EU. 

Recently the Valdai Discussion Club did a case study on the so-called global “right-wing revolt” in Western countries. Its participants analyzed the future of Europe in the context of Brexit and the impact that Trump's victory – and Trumpism more broadly as a new ideology – had on right-wing nationalist politics in EU countries. The UK has now officially begun the process of exiting the EU, putting the country on an irrevocable path. This is why it is so important and timely to ponder possible scenarios for the future of Europe.

Predicting the response of the EU to Brexit was one of the topics of this discussion. That the European Commission and other central EU authorities should want to make Brexit as painful and onerous for the UK as possible is a fairly commonplace observation. The logic is clear: the example of Britain should discourage other countries from following along. Brexit should not become a precedent.

This is true, but another aspect of this issue often escapes notice. The fact is that there’s a sufficiently large number of countries within the EU whose leadership and influential political actors will not rule out the possibility of leaving the EU or, at least, the common euro zone. So, they are not interested in making the UK’s exit as painful as possible. While everyone will say they support it, maintaining a consensus within the EU in favor of a harsh Brexit will be a tall order. So, the European Commission may run into hidden resistance to its plans to make an example out of the UK.

The concept of a “two-speed Europe” may also make this outcome more likely. Over the past month, under the influence of the leading EU countries, this policy is beginning to take on the features of an official EU strategy. For obvious reasons, it is causing much irritation on behalf of the “weak” EU member states, which are not eager to become part of the “second-speed” group, or, putting it bluntly, the second-class EU nations. It is no coincidence that until recently the “two speeds” concept was basically taboo in political debates in the EU, as it was rightly believed to undermine overall unity within the EU, and is also indicative of the European Commission’s inability to ensure the process of integration and equal development of all the EU members. As a result, there is a good chance that the introduction of a “two-speed Europe” strategy amid Brexit would push the “weak links” to leave the EU.

Right-wing nationalist forces in the second-speed EU countries would be able to use this opportunity to win greater popularity, as their traditional Euroscepticism will receive additional grassroots support. Already now, the right-wing political organizations outside of parliament in most EU countries are the main driver of protests against the Brussels bureaucracy. Over the past couple of years, many of these parties have clearly outgrown their former marginal status and their popular support is starting to grow. In the future, this trend and the pressure on the authorities may become even stronger owing to Brexit and the two-speed approach.

This sparked a discussion of the benefits of a clearer and broader ideology that can unite right-wing nationalist parties of Europe and help them win electoral support. In the ongoing presidential race in France, the overarching challenge confronting Marine Le Pen is how to bring her ideology out of the margins and make it acceptable to the majority of the country's population, not just her base.

Another issue that has taken on an important dimension in this context is the growing mutual support of right-wing nationalist parties of Europe, and the creation of a kind of right-wing Internationale within the EU. We can see that more often than not right-wing parties are focused on their respective countries and act in isolation and separately from each other. By and large, the Eurosceptic forces are fragmented and scattered across different factions in the European Parliament as well. Therefore, overcoming these essentially sectarian trends and working together seems to be particularly important for the overall success of these groups.

To resolve these two issues, right-wing nationalist movements in Europe need an example of success to emulate. This led the discussion at the Valdai Club to the influence of Trump, and Trumpism more broadly, on political developments in Europe. There is, of course, the question of whether Donald Trump himself will be able to withstand the onslaught of the old Washington establishment and keep his election promises, but it does not matter for the purposes of this discussion. It is much more significant that the global political wave triggered by Trump's electoral success has formed a fundamentally new ideology and even a new value system that can be provisionally called “Trumpist” (again, it is not linked to the future evolution of Donald Trump himself). This new ideology and the values ​​of Trumpism, for all the differences in circumstance between the United States and the EU, may be able to take root in Europe.

First of all, so-called “redneck values” can become an important part of Trumpism in Europe. This was discussed in detail during the Valdai case study and, clearly, a significant number of these values are socioeconomic in nature. Primarily, the issue concerns the value of the productive economy as the foundation for the sustainable welfare of society. In many EU countries, this foundation has been supplanted by the service and financial sectors, causing growing discontent among an ever larger share of the population. The second socioeconomic value of Trumpism, which is related to the first one, is the value of re-industrialization and, more broadly, the value of modernizing economic and social development. The third value, which is most prominent for obvious reasons, is supporting the native workforce (and associated immigration policies). Hence, the fourth value, which is protecting the domestic market, or healthy protectionism. It is no coincidence that it has formed the basis of not only Trump's economic program in the election (remember, he talked about Mexico and China), it formed the core of his emotional and ideological appeal to the American people in his Gettysburg speech.

The socioeconomic values ​​of Trumpism include equally important political values, which can be adopted in Europe. The fifth and the main value is defending national sovereignty. Again, for all the differences between the United States and the EU countries, it is this Trumpist call which obviously resonated with the entire tradition of the Eurosceptic movement. No less relevant in Europe today is the sixth political value of Trumpism – the protection of national identity and the historical and cultural identity of society.

In this context, it is clear why Trumpism is already influencing political developments in the EU. If the spokesperson for redneck values ​​managed to win in a bulwark of the neo-liberal global establishment such as the United States, why not re-create this success in one (or several) EU countries? Thus, Trump's success has become an important precedent for expanding right-wing nationalist parties in the EU.

Moreover, in addition to the above values ​​of Trumpism, there’s another extremely important value in the EU countries, which is specific to Europe and is directly related to the future of the EU. This value is the Europe of Nations. It is associated with the name of General Charles de Gaulle, who actively promoted it as a counterweight to the strategy of supra-state integration of Europe, which, after his death, prevailed in the politics of the EU. Marine Le Pen, who wants to revive this value, is no longer a radical marginal politician, but a follower of de Gaulle’s cause, and is, in fact, the only Gaullist in today’s France. Note also that this link between the values ​​of Trumpism and Gaullism represents the specifics of the current moment in Europe and forms an extremely promising ideological basis for the growth of right-wing nationalist organizations.

Another interesting issue considered during the Valdai Club’s case study was the fate of the EU in the strategies of right-wing nationalist parties. The stereotype is that they want to bring down the European Union. However, the reality is more complicated. Certainly, the EU in its current form as a triumphalist globalist bureaucracy exerting supranational pressure does not meet the interests of the peoples of Europe. But the specifics of this value-based Gaullist-Trumpist synthesis do not preclude cooperation between the countries of Europe, but stand for its re-birth based on the sound principles of the Europe of Nations. Thus, destroying the EU in its current form, and removing the Brussels bureaucracy from power is mandatory, but is only the first stage on the way to the re-unification of Europe. Under this strategy, Europe should discard everything that is old and rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the current EU as a fundamentally new union – the Europe of Nations or, more precisely, the Europe of Nations based on the Gaullist-Trumpist values. This is the future of Europe envisioned in the long-term strategy of right-wing nationalist parties.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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