The European liberal establishment in Brussels is terrified of a return to power for former U.S. President Donald Trump in next year’s presidential election, fearing a repeat of the trade conflicts that created considerable transatlantic tension during his first term in office.
Trade chiefs in the de facto EU capital are suffering flashbacks after Trump recently floated a return to the U.S. protectionism he campaigned so vociferously on in 2016 when he sought to regenerate the pockets of the blue-collar, industrial Rust Belt left behind by globalization.
Tariffs on steel and aluminum were imposed not just on perceived adversaries like China, but neighbors Mexico and Canada, and allied European partners. Some would say it was a long time coming for the European Union, which despite its public commitment to free trade has practiced protectionism, particularly in relation to its agricultural policy, for some time.
“It’s on everyone’s mind: What if the elections go the wrong way?” one anonymous EU trade diplomat told Politico recently, while an EU corporate trade lawyer claimed EU officials were “frightened” of a Trump return.
Despite his ongoing legal troubles, the former president remains the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to contest next year’s presidential election. According to the latest polling commissioned by the Wall Street Journal, 59 percent of Republican voters have him as their first choice, with Florida Governor Ron De Santis in second at just 13 percent.
In the same poll, U.S. voters prefer Trump to Biden by 40 percent to 39 percent when factoring in minor parties, but the pair are neck-and-neck at 46 percent apiece in a head-to-head clash.
Trump has pressed on with his next economic plan and reportedly sat down with key advisors last month at his private golf club in New Jersey to discuss his latest trade policy, which would see the Trump 2.0 administration impose a “universal baseline tariff” on almost all imports into the United States.
“I think we should have a ring around the collar (of the U.S. economy),” Trump said as he revealed the plan in an interview with Fox Business last month. The 10 percent tariff would apply “automatically” to all countries and could be raised or lowered depending on its effectiveness and the consequences on the global market.
“When companies come in and dump their products in the United States, they should pay, automatically, let’s say a 10 percent tax. I do like the 10 percent for everybody,” he explained.
Trump followed up on the idea in a letter to the Wall Street Journal published last week in which he defended the tariffs imposed during his first stint in the White House and referred to himself as the defender of “true economic nationalism.”
“Foreigners now own $16.75 trillion more of our economy than we own of theirs. Our country is being plundered,” Trump wrote.
“The best way to stop this hemorrhaging of America’s lifeblood is a simple but powerful tariff on most foreign products, like the kind that was the primary source of government revenue through most of American history, and which built this country into the manufacturing powerhouse of the world,” he added.
It’s easy to see why Eurocrats would balk at the thought of a return to the Trump years, and not just because of the potential for increased trade frictions. The former Republican president was a staunch supporter of the Polish and Hungarian conservative governments during his first term, much to the dismay of Brussels, and has remained close with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
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The Law and Justice party in Warsaw and Orbán’s Fidesz party consider themselves to be the vanguard of the European populist movement against the liberal establishment dominant in the de facto EU capital, and Trump’s endorsement of their conservatism was viewed as problematic by the European Commission.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump described Brussels as a “hell hole.” His potential return to office, coupled with a swing to the right in next year’s European parliamentary elections, may just see hellfire rain down on the transatlantic liberal elite that had returned to business as usual under the Biden administration.