Trump's Shameful Ignorance Of Our Closest Allies

In Berlin, a girl climbs a wall painted with a map of the European Union, June 28, 2007. Dalibor Rohac writes that Trump’s explanation for the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union—“if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees […] I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit”—ignores the fact that, as a country not part of the Schengen area, the U.K. has not participated in the EU’s relocation scheme, so the number of refugees it's been “forced to take in” is zero. Sean Gallup/Getty

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Contrary to what some critics have said, Donald Trump's interview with Michael Gove and Kai Diekmann had its bright moments.

The president-elect correctly called the Russian intervention in Syria "a very bad thing."

He expressed "great love" for Scotland as well as Germany—a country of which he is "very proud."

He also said NATO was "very important to [him]"—but European allies needed to step up, and the alliance ought to direct some of its attention to the issue of terrorism.

The president-elect called Angela Merkel "a great, great leader," in spite of her "catastrophic mistake" in accepting large inflows of Syrian refugees.

Of course, such claims can be debated, but on their face they are hardly revolutionary or shocking.

Unfortunately, in the same interview, Mr. Trump also made a number of factual errors, revealing that his perspective on European affairs might be filtered through the likes of "our Nigel," as he referred to the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage.

Some mistakes are minor—though perhaps telling, such as the fact that the president-elect did not seem to distinguish between Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission ("head of the European Union, very fine gentleman").

Similarly, Mr. Trump's personal observations on the burden of EU regulation are built on shaky grounds. The expansion of his Doonbeg property in Ireland was halted, he claims, by "environmental tricks," which he blames on EU regulation: " get the approvals from the EU would have taken years."

As someone who has written about the EU's regulatory problems in the past, I can sympathize with such frustrations. However, the president-elect was not entirely correct in blaming the EU.

True, his property is home to the narrow-mouthed whorl snail (vertigo angustior), protected under the EU Habitats Directive, but European institutions had no say in allowing or stopping his expansion (actually, it was not an expansion, but the construction of a 200,000-ton seawall). The decision to desist building lay fully within the purview of the local Clare County Council, which oversees the special area of conservation of Carrowmore Dunes.

More seriously, the president-elect appeared to be misinformed about the history and nature of the European integration project.

The EU—and its precursors—was not "formed, partially, to beat the United States on trade." No, the project of European integration was among the outcomes of America's efforts to rebuild Europe after World War II.

The Marshall Plan, announced in June 1947, was predicated on the creation of explicit parameters for a European alliance. First, the Committee of European Economic Cooperation was convened in the summer of that same year, providing impetus to coordinate economic policies in Europe. This culminated in the decision to integrate German and French coal and steel industries under the auspices of the Schuman Declaration. The rest is, as they say, history.

It is not true that the EU is "a vehicle for Germany," despite Germany being the EU's largest economy and Ms. Merkel being the most influential leader within the bloc. Germany also holds the most voting power (16.06 percent), followed by France (13.05 percent) and the U.K. (12.79 percent), which are reflective of the country's respective populations.

Germans, however, cannot impose their will on other members—not even within the eurozone, where Germany's accounts for 24.10 percent of total voting power. In any event, most decisions are made either by a qualified majority vote (requiring 55 percent of member states representing at least 65 percent of the EU population to vote in favor) or by unanimity.

Finally, Mr. Trump's explanation for the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union: "If they hadn't been forced to take in all of the refugees […] I think that you wouldn't have a Brexit."

But as a country not part of the Schengen area, the U.K. has not participated in the EU's relocation scheme. The number of refugees it had been "forced to take in" is thus exactly zero.

Pointing out these mistakes is not nitpicking. Reasonable people may hold divergent views about the usefulness of the European project as it currently stands. But factual accuracy is a fairly low standard for assessing the public statements of someone who has just become president of the most powerful country on the planet—and one that has long seen Europe as its closest ally and friend.

Dalibor Rohac is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).