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NATO, The EU And The Future Of Europe


President Trump and President Putin are meeting next week, and that has European leaders on edge. They're prepping for their own meeting with Trump at the NATO summit this week. And if past summits are any indication - think the G7 last month - relations between the United States and its European allies are fragile. But Europe's got problems even without the U.S.. Edward Lucas joins us now from London. He's a former editor at The Economist currently with the Center for European Policy Analysis. Welcome to WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY.

EDWARD LUCAS: Hello, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This past week saw Poland's prime minister telling the EU to stop lecturing about his efforts to remake his country's judiciary. And it seems like European leaders are increasingly emboldened to challenge the authority of the EU, or at least some of them.

LUCAS: Yes, I think that the EU's authority has taken a bit of a knock. It was possible a couple of years ago to say, well, Hungary is an aberration or Greece is an aberration. But now you've got the Polish authorities, who are absolutely standing firm on their right to reform the judiciary they want, but also an Italian government, which has become radically euroskeptic or at least very unwilling to accept Brussel's rules and the German lead on the issue of migration. So we are in uncharted waters, I think, for Europe's future.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, much of the recent debate has happened over the idea of open borders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to tighten Germany's borders this past week to keep her coalition in power. Are you seeing a fundamental shift on the core principle of open borders in Europe?

LUCAS: I think you could differentiate between the internal borders and the external one. And actually the European authorities have done a reasonably good job in stemming the flow of migration in numerical terms, both from North Africa and from Syria.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right, the numbers are down substantially.

LUCAS: The numbers are down radically, yes, and people - I mean, the enormous numbers of refugees are living in countries like Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey. But it has become a sort of lightning rod issue. It's very polarizing, particularly I think - and oddly - in countries that don't actually have any migrants there. So the Hungarians are having conniptions about the sort of non-existent migrants. The Poles are saying they didn't want any Muslims but they'll take Christians - so often these things, but the reality and the rhetoric are quite far apart.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can we talk about the United States in Europe because the Trump administration has been putting quite a bit of pressure on Europe, as well. It's been pretty clear that it wants NATO countries to contribute more to the organization. Do you think that the future of NATO in the era of Trump is under threat?

LUCAS: Absolutely, and I think that the European Union is actually much more durable than people think, whereas NATO is actually much more fragile. NATO is really dependent on one central plank, which is the United States' willingness to go to war to defend its European allies. The problem is Mr. Trump, who regards NATO as obsolete, says it's worse than NAFTA and has a habit of tweeting things when they come into his mind. And if he tweeted that Article 5, the central plank of NATO, the collective self-defense clause, was now obsolete in his view and he didn't see why America should go to war for losers and haters or however he might put it, that would be absolutely devastating. That would be sinking NATO below the waterline. I'm not sure it would recover from that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So are we seeing sort of a bending of the post-World War II world order?

LUCAS: I'm afraid we are. It's not gone yet, but I think that the events are moving at accelerating speed. And I think, you know, NATO's probably the most vulnerable. The world trading system is very vulnerable. And if those two go down, the EU will be in greater difficulty because all the adversaries of the system, the radical populist politicians, will say, yippee, President Trump is pulling down the walls. Let's pull them down faster.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Edward Lucas of the Center for European Policy Analysis speaking with us from London. Thank you very much.

LUCAS: My pleasure, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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