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How Are People In Europe Reacting To Trump's Rhetoric?


Here's what Germany's foreign minister said over the weekend. The old world of the 20th century is gone. What the world of tomorrow will look like is yet unclear. That was a response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump and what he had to say at his inaugural address.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first - America first.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about that with Anthony Gardner, who until last week was the United States ambassador to the European Union. He joins us from Venice.

Welcome to the program, sir.

ANTHONY GARDNER: Thank you very much. It's good to be on the program.

INSKEEP: First, excellent choice to be in Venice for one of your first days off of work. Let me just ask about what the president said there. By insisting that the United States is going to put its own interests first - well, I mean, every president would say that in some fashion or other. What is different here?

GARDNER: Well, he said two things in the address that weren't quoted there but certainly struck me and struck many, many people in Europe. And the first thing he says - I'm quoting - "protection will lead to great prosperity and strength." And the second thing he said is "we will follow two simple rules - buy American and hire American."

Those were among the two things that really raised considerable concerns over here in Europe because imagine if every country were to follow those rules - protection, close the borders, and only buy national. It would be a disaster.

INSKEEP: When you say the system we helped to build after the second world war, you're referring to the same system, I think, as Germany's foreign minister whose words we heard.

GARDNER: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Would you explain what it is?

GARDNER: Well, it's an open world trading system - liberal international economic order, where we believe in globalization. That system has made us rich and has made Europe rich. And if really the vision is now we close our borders, we start taxing imports, we only buy national... Again, just imagine what that means. If Mexico says, we're not going to buy U.S. goods. Germany says, we're not going to buy U.S. goods; we only buy German goods, and Mexico only can buy Mexican goods. The international economic system that we've built simply falls apart. And a lot of people will suffer, including many of the people who voted for this president.

INSKEEP: Could that system survive some tweaking though - the United States pushing for better trade deals, but there's still trade, for example?

GARDNER: Well, of course. We all believe in good trade deals. And I think that we were well on the way to striking good trade deals. I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement would have been not only important economically to raise economic growth but also, importantly, to help us write the rules of global trade, which is what we've been doing for decades. The irony is that by ripping this up, we will hand to China the opportunity to write the rules of global trade. I don't see how that benefits us.

INSKEEP: Let me ask, Ambassador, because you were the ambassador to the European Union, an institution that I think it's fair to say is in a lot of trouble at the moment. Even before Britain voted to leave the European Union, there was much talk of the collapse - or the dissolution of the European Union. There had been for several years.

GARDNER: Well, that's a great question. You know, a lot of people have focused on the president's statements about the upending of decades of policy on China and the reversal of policy on Israel and the reversal of policy on climate change, Iran and Cuba. But fewer people have focused on the reversal of policy with regard to the European Union.

He said in an interview last weekend that, at best, he doesn't really care whether the EU stays together or falls apart. He said it was a vehicle for German power and that it was set up simply to beat us in trade. All of those, I think, are inaccurate statements. And remember that Prime Minister May, in her speech about Brexit, said while Brexit needs to continue - that's what the people wanted - she emphasized the importance of the EU staying together and being an effective force.

And I can tell you, I've followed in the line of 60 years of bipartisan policy - 60 years. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have all seen it in our fundamental national security interest to promote European integration and the EU.

INSKEEP: Does it matter to the United States, though, if the European Union falls apart?

GARDNER: It matters tremendously. Look, just talk to the U.S. business community that has been among the strongest supporters of the integration project because the single market has been very beneficial to U.S. exports, also to European growth and its ability to be an effective partner on many regional and international issues of concern. If it fragments - if there are more Brexits, so that Europe will be weak, it'll import less from the United States. And it will not be a partner. I don't see how that could benefit us.

INSKEEP: And you mentioned Prime Minister May. Of course, you're referring to Theresa May, the prime minister of Britain, who's going to be the first foreign leader that the new president will meet with. He's already spoken of trying to quickly reach a trade agreement with Great Britain. Can that be beneficial to the United States?

GARDNER: Well, sure. It'd be beneficial to the United States, but we need to be realistic here. And I want to emphasize that point. Doing a free trade agreement between the United States and the U.K. won't be simple. And it won't be quick. Now, before we can really negotiate a free trade agreement with the U.K., we have to know the contours of their own deal with the European Union. And that will take two-plus years before we could even start. The U.K. can't start negotiating before they leave the European Union. So the idea that they're going to get a deal done with us quickly is just not based on reality.

INSKEEP: Anthony Gardner was U.S. ambassador to the European Union in Brussels during the Obama administration. Thanks very much.

GARDNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.