Angela Merkel knew she was taking a risk by holding the G20 in Hamburg. Such summits attract protesters with a penchant for balaclavas and Molotov cocktails, so it’s normally safer to use remote resorts, like Evian and Gleneagles, that are easier to defend. But things have been quieter in recent summits and the German elections are coming up in the autumn. So Mrs Merkel decided to hold the G20 a few months early, and invite the world to her birthtown. It all promised to be reasonably quiet, until Donald Trump was elected president.
His welcoming committee has been in the city for some time. A Porsche dealership has been set ablaze, shopkeepers have been boarding up their windows and water cannon were used on protesters even before he arrived. Their general theme, standing up to the wicked Mr Trump, looks set to continue inside the G20 summit itself. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has called for a “return to reason” on climate change and Mrs Merkel has chosen to hold talks on areas where the EU disagrees with Trump most: trade, immigration and global warming.
So the stage is being set for a clash between progressive European values and American cold-heartedness – but there are two problems with the general idea. The first is that many EU leaders are coming around to Mr Trump’s way of thinking, and the other is that, in many areas, European popular opinion is firmly on his side.
But if European voters disagree with him, it’s more likely to be because they don’t think he goes far enough. A survey by Chatham House this year showed that a majority in Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Italy would support a blanket ban on all immigration from Muslim countries. In Poland, which Mr Trump visited first, almost three quarters of the public would back a ban.
This does filter through into politics. A few weeks ago, Slovakia’s prime minister declared that Islam has “no place” in his country. The Czech Republic has told the EU it will not take any Muslim asylum seekers.
Mark Rutte only won re-election in the Netherlands after telling immigrants to “behave normally or go away”. They might not say this on Twitter, but the language is as shocking as anything coming out of the White House.
When it comes to building walls against neighbours, Mr Trump should spend his time at the G20 today looking for tips. Macedonia built a wall with Greece last year, Lithuania is currently fencing off Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, and Norway is building a wall to keep out those making the rather heroic journey over its Arctic border with Russia.
Brazil, also a G20 member, has gone for a “virtual” wall, monitored by drones and satellites, around its 10,000-mile border. So you can disagree with Mr Trump’s plan to build a wall, but it’s hard to dismiss the idea as crazy.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, some 40 countries have built fences against 60 neighbours. The nation state is back in demand, as are walls: both are seen as useful tools to help manage a new era of mass immigration. The EU’s idea of borderless travel was invented when net migration was at a fraction of today’s levels. Now, we see chaos. For some Europeans, even a wall is not enough: Austria has been talking about deploying soldiers and armoured vehicles against migrants who might come over from Italy. Enough to shock even Mr Trump.
On trade, it’s unclear what Mrs Merkel – or any EU leader – has to teach. Trump’s “America-first” trade policy simply mimics the Europe-first protectionism that has defined the EU since its inception. Trump has at least decided to keep Nafta, the free trade deal with Canada and Mexico. The EU struggles to agree deals with any of its major trading partners; this week’s much-feted agreement with Japan is only an ‘‘outline’’. And the US has been quicker than the EU to start free trade negotiations with Britain; talks start this month.
The difference is, mainly, one of language. The EU talks about being globally minded, while practising shameless protectionism. Trump boasts about his protectionism, while not (so far) managing to do very much of it.
Even on climate change, Mr Trump is not the villain that he pretends to be. He walked out of the Paris Agreement, but America’s record is – and continues to be – strikingly impressive. Thanks to the fracking energy revolution, and ever-more-efficient cars and machinery, the per capita carbon emissions in the US are now at levels not seen since the 1960s. The work might have been done by basic consumer demand rather than government diktats, but the US is doing rather well with marrying economic growth and decarbonisation.
An attempt by the G20 to sign a draft statement, chiding him on climate change, looked to be falling apart last night. And deservedly so: on the environment, the US should be judged by its achievements, not its promises.
And if Mr Trump saying he’s not too worried about global warming, he’s also speaking for a lot of Europeans. A Pew survey shows just two in five say that they are very concerned about climate change, perhaps because environmental progress is doing rather well under its own steam. So, again, it comes down to language.
Mr Trump was elected president, in part because he has a genius for provoking his enemies into a deranged frenzy. But there’s not much point in the EU, or any country, succumbing to the same temptation: this is how populists win.
He might be jaw-droppingly undiplomatic, pointlessly argumentative and routinely offensive – characteristics that needlessly harm America’s reputation. But he won because a great many of his supposedly fringe views are popular and, ergo, mainstream. Hard as it may be for his European counterparts to admit, this is true on both sides of the Atlantic.
Original article: By Fraser Nelson, the Daily Telegraph.