Europe is responding to the Trump/Brexit threat by at last trying to do the things many people have been crying out for it to do for ages.
The symbolism is there for all to see. French president, Emmanuel Macron, was not to be beaten. While the UK Prime Minister chose to hold the US President’s hand, Mr Macron squeezed it instead.
When he met President Trump, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese President must have wondered if the US president would ever let go of his hand, Angela Merkel had her shoulders squeezed, Montenegrin prime minister Dusko Markovic was pushed to one side. Indeed, for that matter, when President Elect Trump met President Obama at the White House, the two men seemed hell bent on squeezing the blood out of each other’s hand.
Of course, the business world is no stranger to the idea of hand squeezing – maybe a good tip for a budding entrepreneur is fork out on a wrist builder.
But we are in an era of strong man politics – Mr Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Andrzej Duda of Poland, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
It feels quite un-digital. The digital ethos of collaboration, and flat management structure, when an organisation tries to empower workers to take risks, is not being reflected in the political environment. Instead, the generation of world leaders are saying to their people ‘trust me, I will look after you’. They are saying to the rest of the world – ‘don’t mess with me.’ It’s the alpha males, the silverback gorillas, the dark maned lions – the rest of us must lie prostrate, grateful for their mercy and protection.
And it’s a message that some loathe. You don’t need a handshake grip cast from steel to succeed in business – by all accounts Sir Richard Branson’s is cast from tissue paper.
And in Europe we are seeing a backlash.
Before Brexit we were told that if the US voted to leave the EU, we would see one EU domino fall after another.
But it is possible that Brexit and Trump has led to the opposite effect?
Tests may be coming up in Italy and Austria, where early elections may be called and may throw up an anti-EU leader – but isn’t the message of Mr Trump, shoving the leader of little Montenegro out of the way, that Europe needs unity?
As it happens, Montenegro is not a member of the EU – it’s at the negotiating phase. But one assumes that the cause of EU membership within the country is now much stronger.
And now Mrs Merkel seems to be changing tune. When Nicholas Sarkozy the French President, they used to talk about Merkozy – a two headed beast, half French, half German, a master of procrastination of never acting unless it was absolutely essential.
But now the penny – or is that cent? – has dropped. It is absolutely essential that the EU no longer procrastinates.
Mrs Merkel was in Munich on Sunday – 29th May – Europe needs “to really take our fate into our own hands” she said, from a beer tent, adding: “The era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent. That’s what I experienced over the past several days.” And that it would be “naïve” to “always depend on others to resolve problems in our neighbourhood.”
So, that’s Mrs Merkel.
Meanwhile the other half of the new beast: Merkon, the French President, was meeting Vladimir Putin. The Frenchman was not shy about talking human rights in Russia – and gay rights in Chechnya, and talking about red lines concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
As for his handshake with Mr Trump, he said "My handshake with him, it's not innocent. It's not the alpha and the omega of politics, but a moment of truth."
The truth is, though, that the EU has to come closer together in order to survive. In fairness to some members of the Brexit camp, the single most compelling argument made in favour of Brexit was that it was in the UK’s interests for the EU to be successful, that it would only succeed if it came closer together, and the UK’s membership of the EU was stopping this from happening.
In or out of the EU, the UK can still play a crucial role. As more EU countries look towards spending two per cent of their GDP on defence, and as even non-NATO members such as Sweden and Finland, talk about a common EU defence policy, the UK, which sits at position seven in the league of the world’s biggest spenders on defence – but whose defence related infrastructure puts her far higher up the table in terms of importance – can play a key role. Indeed, Germany, France and co. want Britain to play a key role.
Unfortunately, we are set to enter an era when spending on defence worldwide is going to rise.
Of course, Mr Trump might claim that this is all he wanted to achieve, that by taking the approach he has taken, he has forced European leaders to take their NATO role more seriously – but much of the world that has not yet opted for the alpha male approach to leadership, has reacted to the latest Trumpisms with revulsion.
The US will come in from the cold eventually, there will be a reaction against the Trump approach in the US, just as there is the Europe.
The UK needs to ensure it does not enter the cold, and let an even bigger gulf with the EU emerge – that really would be a disaster.