After seven years of painstaking negotiations, the European Union and Canada have agreed to a landmark trade deal. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement will make the exchange of industrial goods, farm and food items between the European Union and Canada much cheaper. In addition, the agreement will ease trade in areas of the services industry like cargo shipping, telecommunications and financial services.
But the area of interest for Americans is the implicit statement the completion of the deal makes to the Trump administration.
President Trump has persistently advocated for protectionist policies since beginning his campaign for the presidency. His notions that it would be in the United States’ best interest to decrease trade incentives with other nations by increasing tariffs bucks decades of movement in favor of free trade.
By forging on with their trade agreement, the E.U. and Canada, which have historically been two of the United States’ largest trade partners, have sent a clear and concise message of intolerance against the Trump administration’s isolationist economic policies. And while the European Union’s unprecedented single market has been a trademark for supranationalist ideology since its inception, perhaps recent euroskeptic trends render european defiance against Trump in this aspect a bit hypocritical.
Europe has been riding a wave of populism for a number of years now, but it seems to have recently accelerated. In June, Britain voted to remove itself from the European Union, leading Prime Minister David Cameron to resign from his post. In September, Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland, a populist party opposed to the European Union, made major gains in the country’s state elections. In December, François Hollande announced that he will not run for reelection in France’s upcoming campaign cycle, leaving the door wide open for Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Front, another anti-establishment and anti-E.U. party, to take the presidency in May. Just a week later, Italy’s Matteo Renzi resigned as Prime Minister after his constitutional reforms were definitively rejected in a popular referendum.
Despite repeated efforts to create a “more perfect union,” the countries of Europe have consistently failed to agree on many of the fundamental components necessary for integration to flourish. European governments could never agree to the terms by which they would increase the power of the European Union’s legislative bodies. To this day, the E.U.’s annual budget sits just under the annual revenue of Apple at 145 billion euros, which is just a fraction of the U.S. federal budget. The populist trends that have proliferated across the continent during the past few months are a direct testament to these underlying issues. The countries of Europe have long refused to forge Winston Churchill’s utopian “United States of Europe” based on grudging compromises and false pretenses; only now has this issue finally come to a head.
The people of Europe have spoken, choosing far-right political leaders in lieu of more traditional “establishment” figures with the intention of reclaiming their respective nations and the perceived glory of the past—a past where the E.U. did not exist to interfere with national sovereignty. Perhaps these people have forgotten the devastation of the two World Wars that drove their nation states to abandon this fierce brand of nationalism in the first place, but such is the relationship between distance and collective memory.
Although these governmental shifts can all be framed by unique contexts, one theme unites them all: euroscepticism and an overall aversion to big bureaucracy is rife throughout Europe, and it could spell real trouble for the European Union. The motivations behind Europe’s prioritization of the individual goals of each state over the supranational goals of the union are eerily similar to those behind Trump’s protectionism. Before scolding Trump for his closed-off economic policies, perhaps the European Union should ensure that it’s keeping its own doors open.