Donald Trump defined the 2020 Presidential vote as “the most important election in US history” but its impact will also be felt on this side of the pond too — and not just at the highest of political levels.
Trump’s politics over the past four years have affected both the pockets and the most intimate sphere of millions of Europeans.
On one hand, many EU workers have incurred substantial losses in their incomes as a result of the EU-US trade war.
On the other hand, unknown but influential lobbying groups with ties to the US administration are bringing on a fight to erode basic human rights for women and LGBT communities.
Europe: the economic losses
“The Trump administration’s policies have affected European citizens’ lives along different dimensions, from students who now find a less welcoming environment and more restrictive visa policies in the United States, to higher prices as a result of tariffs,” Gustavo Flores-Macias, professor of Government at Cornell University, said.
President Trump’s trade wars — triggered over subsidies to major aviation companies, Boeing and Airbus — have resulted in €6.9 billion new tariffs on European goods: aircraft, steel, oil, wine and cheese. But even when European countries “retaliate by adopting their own tariffs on US imports, Europeans’ ability to purchase American goods — agricultural products, beverages, textiles, motorcycles — decreases,” Flores-Macias added.
Francisco Vañó is one of the European citizens most impacted by Trump’s administration.
He is the general manager of Castillo de Canena, a small olive oil producer of extra virgin olive oil from Jaén, in the southern region of Andalusia. The company has been exporting to the US for 15 years, but the 25 per cent increase in taxes decided by the Trump administration left him with less gain for each of the oil bottles produced.
“If you cannot resist the pressure to reduce margins, and you quit a restaurant or supermarket chain, someone takes your place and it is very difficult to get back in – especially after all the efforts of these years.”
According to Reyes Maroto, Spain’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, the loss to the Spanish agricultural sector between November and May compared to the same period a year earlier is estimated at around €200 million.
Rafael Pico Lapuente, general director of the Spanish Association of the Olive Oil Exporting Industry and Trade (Asoliva) estimates some 180,000 tonnes of olive oil from Spain have not been able to market in the United States since the tariffs came into force.
The worst affected producers are the small ones, as large companies have avoided tariffs by sourcing from other countries, such as Portugal, Morocco or Tunisia.
“It is especially unfair because it is a fight between two large corporations and we are paying for it, the small and medium-sized producers of oil, wine and cheese,” Vañó said.
“With these 25 per cent taxes, Donald Trump has created a price differential on our wines, which is considerable, especially in these difficult health conditions,” Aubert Lefas, a winegrower in Pommard, a village in the heart of the vineyards of Burgundy, said.
In one of the three most famous French wine-producing regions, winegrowers believe the outcome of the US presidential election could have a decisive impact on their lives.
The US is the leading export market for Mr. Lefas. But Trump’s tariffs have led to sales to the United States plummeting by a fifth in the last year.
“On a personal note, I will be happy that a democrat is elected because it corresponds more to the French way of life, to the way we work. But I am not at all sure that the simple fact that there is a change of president changes the tax system,” he went on.
Vañó, the Spanish oil producer concurred: “I don’t think it’s Trump’s tariffs, I think it’s US tariffs.”
Whether or not the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, will end the trade war has not been made clear during the election campaign.
Europe: the human losses
Just as in the case of French wine growers and Spanish olive oil producers, professor William Lucas Scott, from the American Studies at the University of Birmingham, finds it hard to draw a clear link between Trump’s policies and its impacts on Europeans daily lives — even if he reckons there is one.
“We are long past the point — if there was one — of ‘US leads, we follow’. But I think Trump has deeply wounded Europe and the international community, just as he has damaged the US system […] also by abandoning any upholding of human rights.”
An OpenDemocracy investigation found that US Christian right groups, linked to the Trump administration, have spent at least $88 million ( €75 million) to push anti-LGBT and anti-abortion rights in Europe since 2007 with more than a third poured in since 2015.
In October, Poland’s constitutional court ruled that abortions due to birth defects — a majority of all legal terminations — are unconstitutional.
Behind this ruling looms the shadow of one of these ultra-conservative groups, called the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ), which submitted arguments in favour of the new abortion restrictions.
ECLJ is run by Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, and works in close contact with another conservative group, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), designated as a hate group in the US.
“They are lawyers. What both ECLJ and ADF do in Europe is essentially hunting for cases like the Polish one in order to bring forward their strategic litigations skills, with the aim of eroding women and LGBT rights,” Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights, said.
“Their primary weapon is the argument of religious freedom: they don’t say they are against LGBT rights, but that they are pro-religious freedom,” he added.
While on our side of the pond, social issues such as contraception, abortion and LGBT rights are the result of State’s legislation, in the US all advances in these fields are fought at Supreme Court level.
“These groups have five decades more experience to contest social issues in front of courts, whereas in Europe we don’t have that tradition and that skillset,” Datta noted.
But Poland, where these groups have publicly supported the government against the European Commission in their ongoing dispute over ‘LGBT ideology-free’ zones, is not alone.
In Romania, they argued the term “spouse” for the purpose of granting residence rights to non-EU citizens should not include same-sex partners married abroad. In France, they filed briefs opposing trans rights. In the Balkan region, they submitted reports urging Bosnia and Herzegovina to further tighten its already-restrictive abortion laws. In Austria and Italy, they fought in court cases of same-sex adoption and same-sex marriages.
These examples of court cases which saw active participation by ECLJ and ADF have been shared with Euronews by OpenSociety.
Sometimes ECLJ and ADF win in court, sometimes they lose. On one occasion, for example, ECLJ regretted the decision of the European Court of Human Rights not to take up the case of two Swedish who wished to take Sweden to court for denying them jobs as midwives. The two women refuse to carry out abortions on religious grounds.
Yet, critics argue that their real aim is to establish themselves as institutional partners, and creating a legal body that can be referred to when arguing similar cases both in Europe and in the US.
Just as ECLJ is directly linked to Trump via his personal lawyer, the new ADF’s CEO was invited to the White House to mark the nomination of Amy Coney Barret to the US supreme court.
US Department of Justice spokesperson, Kerri Kupec, has been with ADF since 2014.
Recently, the group celebrated the proposal of naming a shared lake between Serbia and Kosovo after President Trump.
Lobbying in the rooms of EU power
As Datta confirms, ECLJ is very active at the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organisation. As for ADF, according to EU records, the group has seven lobbyists in Brussels and spends up to €300,000 a year on lobbying the bloc.
Another powerful organisation linked to Trump’s administration is the Leadership Institute, specialising in training right-wing and ultraconservative politicians not only in the US, but in Europe too. Vice President Mike Pence is a Leadership Institute alumni.
“People they train in Europe tend to be anti-gender, anti-abortion and anti-LGBT. They train them in fundraising and influencing the political process,” Datta told Euronews.
As Trump is not known for being a particularly devoted man, it is Pence who brings in the votes of the most conservative fringes of the American society.
Most MEP are not aware of who is behind these ultra-conservative groups
“I feel the influence [of these ultra-conservative groups] in quite a direct way. They have a super influence on blocking the anti-discrimination directive for 11 years. You can never demonstrate there is a direct link, as they use many different channels, many different ways of influencing the decision-making processes,” Sophie In ‘t Veld, a Dutch liberal MEP, said.
“For many years we have witnessed their activity at the European Parliament: they influence the work in the Commissions, they organise events and invite MEPs. The problem is that the names of these organisations sound really innocent – they have worlds such as dignity, family, freedom… and most MEPs are not aware of who’s behind them.
“It is a very closely-knit network: they do not reflect the opinion of the majority of the population, but they are very effective in getting their views through,” she added.
ECLJ did not answer Euronews’ request for comment. ADF International wrote that they “provide pro-bono legal services for the protection of fundamental rights all over the world, including the right to religious freedom, free speech, and the sanctity of life”, and accused OpenDemocracy of launching “what is nothing more than a smear campaign.”
Massimo Teodori, a former Italian senator, historian and expert of US politics, reckons that “Trump has strengthened the expansive policy of the anti-European, anti-immigration populists, and the agenda of those hostile to multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.”
“It is no coincidence that The League party of Matteo Salvini and Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, rushed to forge ties and alliances with Steve Bannon […] becoming part of the international movement he created together with ultra-right groups from different European countries,” he said.
According to Teodori, Trump’s politics reinforced sympathies towards the “illiberal democracies” of (Russia’s Vladimir) Putin, (Hungary’s Viktor) Orban and Poland; the hostility towards the church of Pope Francis and, more generally, the mistrust against LGBT’s civil rights.”