Europa United is delighted to welcome our newest member of the team, Luca Contrino. Luca is a native of Italy and he is currently in the process of completing a Master’s in International and European Relations at Linköping University in Sweden. In his first contribution to Europa United, Luca questions the so called admiration that the American Alt Right has for European values and argues that it is nothing but fake flattery.
While here in Europe we have been observing – horrified, perplexed, and possibly amused – events across the Atlantic over the summer, among them Charlottesville and the ensuing fallout, it does not seem like a subject that affects Europe. Dig a little deeper though, and the Alt-Right’s obsession with preserving “European heritage” in the United States of America is much more than simplistic racial politics, but a mentality that now has its backers in certain corners of the White House, and if successful, could create very real problems for Europe. In short, for all their “European” pride, the American Alt-Right hate the idea of a united Europe, and not for the reasons we might initially think of. Here in Europe, we ignore these schools of thought at our own risk.
Inevitably the questions will be why and how this is dangerous for Europe. After all, doesn’t a group of people wanting to take pride in their European heritage, albeit in an extreme way, want the best for Europe? Wouldn’t the idea of Europe as a unified entity be a goal they’d be willing to support? In reality, recent events suggest that this last question can be answered with a resounding no. The American Alt-Right love the idea of European heritage, but they fear and detest the concept of a united Europe. That is because their ethno-nationalism takes place in a firmly American context, one which apart from idealised racial utopias, prises American supremacy above all. The Alt-Right may be a disparate collection of right-wing fringe groups, but Europhobia feeds into several of these groups’ fears.
Some of course will be quick to point to Europe’s emphasis on its unity because of rather than despite its diversity, and its (partial) acceptance of non-European refugees from conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, amounting to the so-called “White Genocide” these right-wing groups consistently advertise. While this is part of the story, it is in fact a lazy talking point within the lazy label of “political correctness” that the Alt-Right throws at anything it disagrees with, and that hides a deeper, far less obvious fear of the European project.
On a more primal level, the obsession with “Alpha male” status translates well into these extreme American nationalists’ views of Europe in the world. This highly militaristic and macho worldview wishes to position the United States as the only global superpower, with no other nation vying for status. In this, the European Union provides a clear threat as a bloc of nations with significant economic and cultural influence that can serve as a clear competitor to a United States that has begun to breed considerable suspicion in certain areas of the planet. Here, some more sceptical readers may point to the Alt-Right adulation for Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a counter-point to this argument, and in effect it would appear strange that people espousing such a radical form of American nationalism would admire the leader of the United States’ Cold War foe. However, there is an important distinction to make: the Alt-Right admire Putin for his supposed social conservatism, which includes harsh treatment of Central Asian migrants and minorities from the Caucasus region, and reinforcing his links with the Orthodox Church. However, they admire him because they do not consider him a rival; they see him as a prototype, and as an indirect reflection of their confidence that Russia cannot provide geopolitical competition to threaten American primacy in the international system (which I would argue is correct, Russia is indeed much weaker than recent events might suggest).
A unified threat
As I hinted at earlier, this is not the case for a united Europe. Demographically and economically, the European Union puts up similar numbers to the United States, and the various cultures that are contained within the Union (Italian, French, Spanish, etc.) have gone on to influence the entire planet. More than this however, the European Union offers a model of engagement that the American right fear will undermine their country’s influence abroad. The European Union’s gradually increasing ability to develop bloc diplomacy rather than relying exclusively on member states to manage their own diplomatic relations, as well as its ability to develop trade deals as a bloc rather than separate nation-states, are all factors that signal the Union’s intent to go beyond a simple intra-European bloc and work as a single global actor, potentially supplanting the United States in a global league table of influence. Additionally, the Union’s governance structure provides a model to follow that could supplant the United States’ system of governance as a model to look to. After all, one must not forget that a continent whose existence was characterised by near-constant war continues to experience the longest continuous period of peace in its history (barring the events during Yugoslavia’s dissolution), and to this day no European Union member states have gone to war with each other. While the current governance structure has issues to contend with, including issues related to a democratic deficit, the European Parliament’s elections, and the European Council allow for local as well as national political input to counter the Commission’s more technocratic properties. And as such, contrary to the protests of the more anti-European elements here in Europe, the Union’s decisions and directives are the product of extensive negotiation and compromise, and not directives to adopt wholesale with no channels through which to communicate grievances.
The results of the American Alt-Right’s Europhobia have already manifested themselves: Alt-Right trolls from across the Atlantic were active in the Dutch, French, and recent German elections, working in favour of the Anti-European candidates. After all, it was American Alt-Right figures who worked to advertise the Macron campaign’s email leaks first, news of which later reached Europe (although the leaks ultimately proved to be a non-issue and didn’t reveal particularly damaging details, it was clear that the Alt-Right’s aim was to damage the standing of a pro-European candidate). The problem however does not end there; several Alt-Right figures have made their way into the White House, or at least in positions to influence Donald Trump, a highly impressionable and America-centric individual. They see the need to keep Europe as fragmented as possible to avoid a cohesive European presence on the world stage that can endanger American economic and cultural hegemony in the long term, and the recent past suggests they have had some success. One can easily recall Trump’s embrace of Brexit as Britons “getting their country back”, and more recently his ringing endorsement of Marine Le Pen and her anti-European agenda, reason for which Emmanuel Macron had to pull out all the stops, first to emasculate him at the G20 summit and then to woo him on his recent visit to France. With Trump willing to go to incredible lengths to play to his hard-core of extreme right supporters, these Anti-European ideas have considerable traction within his White House and could influence his attitude to the Union in a pervasive manner.
The biggest problems, however, may manifest themselves only later. Syria’s civil war has yet to be resolved, and Trump’s recent escalation in hostile rhetoric with Iran and Korea risks inflaming tensions to dangerous levels. Trump’s cabinet has strong connections to the military, and while armed conflict is unlikely, Trump’s impulsive nature and aggressive stance has fired up his base and risks prolonging conflict in the Middle East as well as involving more countries. The American Alt-Right will have seen how the climate of insecurity accompanying the conflict and its fallout in Europe, as well as the migration flows that have generated discord among member states, and may well factor this in as a reason to push for increased conflict in the Middle East. Ordinarily this fringe of people would have little influence on policy, but in Trump’s White House they now form part of a base that he is keen to please, and who can influence his staff and consequently his rhetoric and actions.
Our Europe, not theirs
For this reason, as Europeans we must denounce the American Alt-Right’s attempted appropriation of Europeanness. This is not because we do not share those links, of course we do, but because such appropriation comes in the context of an explicitly American hard-right nationalism that has no qualms causing problems for Europe, and despises the idea of Europe as a unified actor and not as a set of divided and competing states looking to a hegemonic United States for guidance. Needless to say, we must not adopt Anti-Americanism as a matter of course. The United States and Europe are linked by blood, by culture (in some forms), by history, and many other things which have mutually influenced us, the United States was vocally supportive of the European Union’s founding in 1957 as the European Coal and Steel Community, and the current US administration still counts competent individuals that see the Union as a serious partner worthy of respect and whose stability is key to global stability. However, given this political current in the United States, and the influence it has so far spread within Europe, the time has come to take decisive steps towards a more assertive Europe as an increasingly cohesive and unified actor. The Union must not retreat in the face of pressing issues, and work to consolidate its stability and that of the European neighbourhood. It has the possibility to establish itself as a clear leader in the fight against climate change, which in turn can work to guarantee food security. Its experience as a body whose main successes have come from negotiation and compromise can serve to defuse tensions and involve states further afield in more cooperative and less confrontational forms of diplomacy and trade.
To conclude, the American Alt-Right want a divided Europe because a united Europe that prizes its diversity and ability to reinforce relations further afield through dialogue and trade puts their hegemonic vision for the United States at risk. We have built an imperfect Union, one that requires constant debate and emotional investment to develop and improve, but we have come so far from the continent that routinely experienced war, genocide and famine throughout most of its history. I remain convinced that the European Union is a force for good, and can provide a good example further afield as well as a bloc that can help Europe face today’s challenges in a more united fashion. The time has come to definitely dissociate ourselves from the American Alt-Right’s vision of Europeanness, define it for ourselves, own it, and work to overcome our current differences in order to unite Europe further. After all, the Union’s ongoing success depends on it, now more than ever.