23 October 2020

The US presidential elections and the future of the European states

Sergiu Medar

The US presidential elections, to be held on November 3rd, represent the number one 2020 political event for all world states. Both the bilateral and multilateral relations will be strongly influenced by how the American nation chooses between Trump and Biden (2020), by the election of a new leader in Germany (2021) and by the new French leader (2022). The world has changed after Trump got elected, it changed and it changes after the novel coronavirus and will continue to do so after the US elections. It is a dynamic that’s even modifying the mind, capacity and way of thinking of the population.

Image source: Profimedia: dezbatere Trump - Biden

World states are following the development of the US electoral campaign, which is taking place in totally unusual conditions, during the crisis provoked by the SARS CoV-2 virus. The European states seem to be the most interested in anticipating the result of the US November 3rd vote.

While writing this article, the polls show that Biden is 6-7% above Trump. If Trump would not be in the competition, this percentage could be decisive. But considering the unpredictability that Trump got us used to, a few days before the vote, both candidates seem to have equal chances. The consequences of the White House’s reveals regarding the allegedly illegal businesses of Biden and his son, in some states, are not clear yet. If Europe’s inhabitants would be the ones to vote here, Trump would lose the elections. In America, however, he is seen as a cowboy who always tells the truth and who managed to bring Americans’ welfare. 

Generally, the emergence of crises during the electoral campaigns seems to be a chance for the president, who has all the methods at his disposal. The bad way Trump managed the COVID-19 crisis is, for him, rather a burden than a chance.

Therefore, Biden and Trump seem to have similar chances to win the US elections. Each of them will have to run America in an extremely hard time, under the threat of the big powers competition, in pandemic and post-pandemic conditions.

For Europe’s states, the US elections’ result is decisive for their political development, at least for the next 4 years. The transatlantic relation is essential for the security of all European states. France’s limits in the defence field, the exact domain wherein Paris had leader qualities in, were revealed by the unexpected difficulties it has in Mali. The failure of the EU states in this African country highlighted, again, that NATO, with US being leader, is the only defence solution Europe has and that the European army is rather a Utopia.

The end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet empire proved that the transatlantic relation is the only successful solution for Europe in the big powers competition. The US National Security Strategy, from 2017, claims that this competition is the main security threat against the US. Among the competitors, there are China and Russia, naturally present, and the EU (economically) an artificial temporary presence.

The EU does not have a coherent strategy on Russia or the US, just like Washington does not have a strategy on developing its relations with EU and Russia

Thus, Trump’s Administration had different positions than those of France and Germany on things related to the NATO burden sharing, the European defence or the commercial relations between the states on the two coasts of Atlantic. These differences emerged between the US and a unified Europe, encouraged by the fact that it can become the second largest economy of the world. The European Union thinks it is less dependent on the US security support and wants an independent foreign policy. The Eastern Europe states, with a painful experience in its relations with Russia, are aware that as long as the US policy on Russia is strong, the Baltic states and those of the former Warsaw Treaty can develop without being influence d by the Russian threat.

The two US presidency candidates will have, according to their statements, different positions on Europe. US’s policy on Europe will depend on Moscow’s policy on the rest of Europe. With an increasingly aggressive Russia on the states which are near abroad, the Europeans will be more passive, asking for US’s help. Opening US military bases in Poland and Romania proves Washington’s strong involvement in the big powers competition strategy. A policy like blocking Russia’s intentions, which was launched and followed by Trump, might continue, if he will run US again. Biden is more willing to negotiate with Moscow, but he cannot decrease the operationalization level of the US bases in Eastern Europe, as this would be a step back in relation to its main competitor.

Even so, the democratic candidate will not get closer to the state that violently invaded Crimea, Donbas, Syria, Libya or Belarus and which is using an internal policy based on human rights’ violation, supported by crimes, both on internal and foreign soil. Russia’s aggressive attitude, both inside the country and abroad, is similar to that of the former Soviet empire, and Vladimir Putin has completely abandoned the democratic principles that he actually never fully embraced.

On the other hand, Germany and France seem to have a more conciliatory attitude towards Russia. The limits are established by its aggressiveness on other democratic states.  For example, the two big European countries, together with other EU member states, have maintained the sanctions imposed to Russia after the brutal intervention in Crimea, intensified following the same violation of international law in South-East Ukraine, kept after the assassination attempts of Skripal and Navalny , the Belarus intervention and, not to mention the unlimited cyber attacks on the intelligence systems of almost all EU and US member states. It might also be noticed that the more the US position towards Russia becomes stronger, the more are France and Germany taking different stances, on different fields, to that of Washington.

France is the European state that tried to get closer to Russia the most, Macron even promising Putin that it will retake all the mutual commitments and build a united Europe, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, given that Putin’s analysts think Europe is Eurasia’s peninsula.  However, as it saw it could not act differently than its European allies, France voted the imposition of new sanctions on Moscow, after the poisoning of the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny. However, they still have a relation, so there is no coincidence that Russia and France’s interests are similar when it comes to Libya, Armenia and Turkey.

Germany is also pressured by the US to give up the Nord Stream 2 project, Angela Merkel finding it hard to resist to the Russian lobby, led by the former chancellor, Schroeder. The German chancellor is asking for a European solution, as a reaction to the American pressure. It is quite late to find a solution to stop this project, which is almost coming to an end. Given the law that has already passed the US Congress, to unilaterally apply sanctions to Germany and the other states part of the pipeline’s project, any option it would choose would worsen the already bad US-Europe relations.

If Biden will win the elections, he will, most likely, try to repair the transatlantic relation, giving up to some coercion measures taken by Trump. At the 2019 Munich Security Conference, Biden announced that, not after long, America will look different as relations will be repaired. The democratic candidate had the same pro-European and pro-NATO stance during the entire campaign.

Putin proved he cannot have a democratic behavior and as reconciliatory as the Western states would be, they cannot ignore this fact. Paris and Berlin will not give any satisfaction to Trump. If Biden will become president, both parts will make concessions and will get the transatlantic relation back on track. In the meantime, the same countries that now seem to have opposed stances, will find the solution for the Western Atlantic relations to defeat the Russian revenge spirit.

Any analysis on the present of future impact of the US 2020 elections must consider that Germany will, in 2021, have a new chancellor, and France will have a new president, in 2022. Each new leader will influence the foreign policy of its state and also the transatlantic ones.

Translated by Andreea Soare