|Trump and Bannon: A major threat to the EU|
Bannon emerged into the national spotlight as CEO of Donald Trump’s struggling presidential campaign. Bannon was an executive at Breitbart News, an activist-editor-gadfly known mostly on the far right, and the “Brexit” campaign was something of a pet project. He hitched onto the Tea Party movement early in Barack Obama’s presidency and noticed a similar right-populist wave rising across the Atlantic, where fed-up rural, white Britons were anxious about immigration and resentful of EU bureaucrats.
The cause touched on some of Bannon’s deepest beliefs, including nationalism, Judeo-Christian identity and the evils of Big Government. In early 2014, Bannon launched a London outpost of Breitbart, opening what he called a new front “in our current cultural and political war.” The site promptly began pointing its knives at the EU, with headlines like “The EU Is Dead, It Just Refuses to Lie Down”; “The European Union’s Response to Terrorism Is a Massive Privacy Power Grab”; “Pressure on Member States to Embrace Trans Ideology.” One 2014 article invited readers to vote in a poll among “the most annoying European Union rules.”
Bannon’s site quickly became tightly entangled with the United Kingdom Independence Party, a fringe movement with the then-outlandish goal of Britain’s exit from the EU. In October 2014, UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, poached a Breitbart London editor to work for him. That September, Bannon hosted a dinner for Farage at his Capitol Hill townhouse. Standing under a large oil painting by the fireplace, Farage delivered a speech that left the dozens of conservative leaders in attendance “blown away,” as Bannon later recalled.
On June 23 of last year, Britons defied the pleas of Europe’s political elites and narrowly voted for Brexit. Many observers called it the most traumatic event in the history of a union whose origins date to the 1950s. Suddenly the future of all Europe, whose unity America had spent the decades since World War II cultivating, lay in doubt. It was the next day that Bannon hosted Farage for a triumphal edition of his daily radio show.
“The European Union project has failed,” Farage declared. “It is doomed, I’m pleased to say.”
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Bannon said. “Congratulations.”
Bannon now works in the West Wing as President Donald Trump’s top political adviser. He is, by all accounts, the brains of Trump’s operation—a history-obsessed global thinker whose vision extends far beyond Trump’s domestic agenda and Rust Belt base. Bannon co-wrote Trump’s “America First” inauguration speech, which hinted at a new world order, and will join the president’s National Security Council—apparently the first political adviser to get a permanent seat in the president’s Situation Room. And while commentators are focusing on Bannon’s views about nationalism here in the United States, his public comments and interviews with several people who know him make clear that, even as he helps Trump “make America great again,” he has his sights set on a bigger target across the Atlantic Ocean. IT IS THE DESTRUCTION OF THE EU HIS SIGHT IS SET ON
Donald Trump’s transition team denied scheduling the French nationalist Marine Le Pen’s visit to the Trump Tower café in January. But she met Guido Lombardi, an informal liaison between Trump and the European far-right, who claims Bannon gave his blessing.
Breitbart often sets Frauke Petry, the leader of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, as a foil to Angela Merkel. “The achievements of the Reformation and Enlightenment are endangered,” Petry told Breitbart, arguing that defending immigrants has become a new religion in Europe—and echoing Bannon’s own defense of the Judeo-Christian West.
Geert Wilders—the leader of the Dutch far-right Party for Freedom, which increased his seats in the last Dutch parliamentary elections, has contributed articles to Breitbart—such as “Britain Is The Brexit Pioneer and Others Will Follow” and “Muslims, Leave Islam, Opt for Freedom!” He was also the keynote speaker at Breitbart’s “Gays for Trump” party at the Republican National Convention in July.
Breitbart has covered Italy’s Beppe Grillo and his nationalist movement with articles like “After Brexit and Trump, Italy’s Five-Star-Movement May Be The Next Surprise.” Grillo called Trump’s victory an “extraordinary turning point” for global populism, and he expects Italy will follow.
In 2012, Nigel Farage accepted Bannon’s invitation to meet in Washington, where Bannon introduced the U.K. Independence Party leader to like-minded individuals. Farage became a regular on Bannon’s radio show, and defended critics who called Bannon anti-Semitic, telling Breitbart that the attacks amounted to “demonization.”
“Bannon hates the EU,” says Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart writer who split with Bannon last year but who shares the sentiment. “He figures it’s mainly an instrument for globalism—as opposed to an instrument for the bettering of Western civilization.”
“What we understand from Bannon is that the EU is abhorrent,” one Western European government official told me.
The idea that one man could threaten the European project might sound extreme. And it would be an exaggeration to say that even the full-throated support of Breitbart London was what tipped the scales toward Brexit. But having the ear of the president of the United States is different—and the question of just what Bannon plans to do with his influence has become a huge preoccupation of diplomats, European government officials and experts on the venerable trans-Atlantic relationship. In more than a dozen interviews, they recounted a creeping sense of dread about the very specific ways Bannon could use American power like a crowbar to pull the EU apart.
“The European Union is under serious threat,” Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and now a senior EU official, told a London audience in late January. Its enemies, he said, now include Trump—thanks in large part to “the enormous influence of his chief political adviser, Mr. Bannon.”
Since the election, European officials have been combing the internet, including Breitbart’s archives, for clues to Bannon’s worldview and how he might counsel Trump. And what they’re finding is stoking their deepest anxieties. “They have a deep well of psychological reliance on the American-led order,” says Jeremy Shapiro, a Hillary Clinton State Department official now at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London. Now they’re bracing for an American assault on that order.
Europe as we know it has never been more vulnerable to such an assault. Economic malaise and high debt are testing the EU’s financial structures and pitting its members against one another. So is the historic influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Nationalist parties and candidates hostile to the Union are ascendant in France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands—all of which are set to hold elections this year. Russia, which may stand to gain the most from a disunited Europe, is gleefully aiding the process by disrupting Europe’s domestic politics with propaganda and hacking meant to discredit the pro-EU establishment.
The EU better be on high alert to this threat and be prepared to react immediately when needed
Read more:The Man Who Wants to Unmake the West: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the EU - POLITICO Magazine