US ELECTION – IMPLICATIONS FOR RELATIONS WITH EU
A light-hearted opening comment from a columnist in yesterday’s FT:
“I am left with some awful thoughts. For example, that Newt Gingrich might be the next secretary of state, which would give an undeserved respectability to Boris Johnson, or that Rudy Giuliani might run the justice department which could herald a 21st century version of the Spanish Inquisition.”
“If those nightmares are not bad enough, I am also struck by the fact that a Trump victory is a triumph for America’s farmers, even though the candidate would not know a cow from a pig and the only green grass he treads is on his golf courses.”
And from the French Ambassador to the US: “The world is coming apart before our eyes.”
So what are implications for Europe? Four key areas – two bilateral - trade and security, third is what I call domestic – the impact within Europe. 4th is climate change.
Taking external first – as for Taiwan, or Japan, or Korea, for Europe the US is major trading partner. Two sides have been talking for some years now about a new TTIP. Barring a complete about turn by Trump we can assume that the TTIP is now dead. But realistically it was very much in doubt anyway. And probably within Europe not too many tears will be shed. Would it have been different with a Clinton victory? Maybe but quite probably not – recent problems over agreeing CETA with Canada showed difficulties comprehensive trade deals face. Populist perceptions that main beneficiaries would be big multinationals haven’t helped, still less the revelations about tax deals they’ve done with national governments in Ireland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands etc.
Reality is that agreeing any new comprehensive trade deal will require major commitment and leadership to a degree lacking among all world leaders today with possible exception of Angela Merkel. But she can’t do it on her own.
See likely failure of TTIP as setback, no more. Trade won’t stop, transatlantic trade growth has been slow most of this century anyway, so doesn’t change much. And don’t rule out possibility that once dust settled, two sides will explore possibility of a scaled down version – a deal is every bit as much in US business interests as EU ones and expect US business to be lobbying Trump.
In meantime an opportunity for Taiwan – EU has offered talks on a BIA, Taiwan should seize the moment.
Whatever happens on trade negotiations, however, for now at least a secondary concern.
Big questions surround security issues. Very real for Europe – again, like Taiwan, Korea and Japan, very reliant on US security umbrella through NATO. It faces on its borders a resurgent, truculent Putin still making trouble in Ukraine, a bitter unresolved conflict dragging on in Syria, an increasingly authoritarian Erdogan in Turkey – another NATO member – not to mention continuing threat of terrorism from ISIS and its supporters. A potent cocktail.
Trump’s campaign comments about Putin will be especially worrying in Europe – already divided over whether or not to toughen sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, Polish president has been quick to write to him seeking his assurances that will abide by NATO commitment to increase troops in east – together with Baltic States understandably worried by Russian attempts at destabilisation.
On the other hand, Trump’s professed willingness to work with Putin on Syria could bring results – but not the sort that Obama or EU had once hoped for. Instead, suspect most likely outcome would be deal which sees Assad supported at price of Chechen style campaign against moderate opposition – meaning yet more refugees heading to Europe. Big question too over what if anything he will do about Turkey’s increasingly interventionist stance in region – doubt he will do anything to check Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism – so after hopes of Arab spring of not long ago, see Middle East moving back towards authoritarian governments built round personality cults.
On their own, these are all individual challenges that could – should - be handled by a united European response and clear leadership. The EU has often talked about doing so and US presidents have tried in past to encourage it – Obama over Libya, GHW Bush and Clinton over former Yugoslavia. Each time EU found wanting. If Trump’s election and his threats about not helping other NATO members finally spur Europe into action will be a benefit – but not hopeful.
EU is already beset by problems of its own – Brexit, Greece, Syrian refugees, terrorism and more. It was hoping for continued leadership from US. Obvious response should be to work together more - Pres. Hollande has already called for a united Europe in response.
But leaders preoccupied with domestic concerns.
Weak governments in Italy and Spain, next year sees elections in France, Germany and Netherlands. Trump’s victory will have undoubtedly boosted right wing – biggest potential beneficiary likely to be Marine Le Pen and FN in France – Le Pen has already welcomed his victory. Suspect likely to increase prospect of Sarkozy trying to make a comeback. But boost too to Orban in Hungary, and other right wing/nationalist leaders - can only increase internal strains within the EU.
As so often the case, Merkel will be the key. She is only EU head of government who has shown real leadership in recent years. She faces re-election next Autumn. By then things may be clearer – if Trump proves to be as bad as some fear, it should strengthen her position – German voters will not want to add to uncertainty and will opt for experience. Conversely and maybe paradoxically, if Trump turns out better than expected may also help her as voters may feel his rhetoric is not matched by reality so voting for AFD would not be a solution.
Haven’t mentioned climate change until now but what Trump actually does on this - specifically whether or not he withdraws the US from the Paris Agreement – will set the tone for the longer term relationship. It’s an important issue for Europe and one on which it has staked considerable diplomatic effort over the years. But as Chancellor Merkel implicitly recognised in her statement following Trump’s win, the EU cannot ignore the US, so it will have to find ways of working with him.
Bottom line is as former congressman Vin Weber, a vocal critic of Trump, said: “America’s role in the world is suddenly an open question. But I wouldn’t assume the worst. I’d assume a question mark.”
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