US Presidential Election – What will be the impact on EU/US relations?
Writing exclusively for Endeavour Public Affairs Baroness Ludford MEP sets out her thoughts on next week’s US presidential election and the impact this election could have on EU/US relations.
Baroness Ludford is a Liberal Democrat MEP representing London and is Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with the United States. She is also a member of the House of Lords.
If President Obama were standing for re-election in Europe rather than the United States, victory would be very firmly within his grasp. Two recent surveys have clearly shown that an overwhelming majority of EU citizens hope for an Obama victory. And as for Michelle, she’s a star this side of the Pond too.
The Republican Presidential candidate has not caught the European imagination and he’s seen as rather gaffe-prone compared to the smart (if somewhat aloof) President. Mitt Romney’s remark in London about the UK being unprepared for the Olympic Games went down particularly badly!
Europeans across the political spectrum see President Obama as broadly on the same wavelength as mainstream Europe in his policies of universal healthcare provision, concern for the less well-off rather than the rich, social liberalism on gender and sexual orientation, and acknowledgement of the climate change challenge. Tea-Party-influenced Romney is seen as pulled to the extremes, his open criticism of European fiscal and social welfare policies jarring with modern European politics; even the Republican party’s nominal ally, the British Conservative Party, is after all a staunch champion of ‘socialised medicine’ in the form of the National Health Service.
However, support for the incumbent President over here is not as strong now as in 2008. Just as among the US electorate, there is (possibly unrealistic) disappointment in Europe that ‘Hope’ has morphed into ‘Difficulty’. President Obama’s failure to deliver on his key election pledge to close the Guantanamo human rights black hole hurts, even if he could mostly blame Congress – and ‘the economy, stupid’ that has taken so much of his energies – for that failure.
The Obama administration has in any case been perceived as not very interested in Europe, except as a source of financial and economic worry, with a strategic shift of US focus to the Asia-Pacific region distracting from relations with the EU. It’s a sobering cause for reflection that neither candidate has talked about Europe in their campaigns, even in the televised debate devoted to foreign affairs.
But why do we Europeans care who wins the US elections? For starters, this is because for the whole world, the US is still the dominant power, the rise of China notwithstanding. But for the EU in particular, the US is our most important political and trading partner. EU-US trade accounts for half of the global total, with mutually high levels of investment, making the transatlantic economic relationship the deepest in the world.
Work takes place continuously to sort out trade disputes and align regulatory rules, but a more ambitious step change is needed. Talks are now in preparation for significantly freeing up our trade, to boost GDP and jobs on both sides. The European Parliament has led that effort, consistently expressing its support for a transatlantic free market. It’s vital that, whoever wins the White House, we build upon an already strong foundation of cooperation through deepened business connections, mutual recognition of product standards and liberalisation of services in order to enhance growth and competitiveness.
The question of regulatory standards is particularly important. Although there will be tensions in a limited number of areas (like GMOs), we should not allow China to set the rules through a division between the EU and the US.
Earlier this week I was in Bosnia with a delegation of MEPs. Simultaneously there was a joint visit by Cathy Ashton and Hilary Clinton, a striking example of the scope for coordinated foreign policy. The military action last year to kick out Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi was led by Britain and France but with essential US backup. Just as UK deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has reiterated that ‘the UK stands tall in Washington because we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin’, so the EU stands tall in the US capital when we act united. The US has for decades supported EU integration because they know that the more capable we are the better and more reliable we are.
Whilst trade and foreign policy remain our most dominant discourse, EU-US relations go far beyond these issues, ranging from energy and climate to issues of security, human rights and civil liberties. I’m excited at the prospect of getting a common space for legitimate data-sharing within a framework of coordinated privacy rules, though there is some way to go on this.
Europeans will thus be watching the US presidential election very closely. It is for the American public to decide, and the EU must be prepared to work successfully with whoever is triumphant on November 6th. An EU committed to economic stability as well as to tackling the global challenges of poverty, conflict and climate threats – vividly represented by super storm Sandy – must be committed to a strong partnership with America, whoever its future leader may be.