America the beautiful and the ugly
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 07.11.2016
Coupled with the desire for US protection, there is an overwhelmingly positive view of the United States by governments and mainstream political parties across Europe.
This is perhaps surprising given the volume of reporting dedicated to the various struggles in the US-European relationship, ranging from the NSA spying controversy to protests over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) — a free trade pact currently being negotiated by the US and the EU.
But for governments, the world is becoming an ever more difficult place. And a desire for stability can cover a multitude of sins. Whether governments are afraid of terrorism or Russia, their need for US protection has relatively easily translated into a positive view of the country they feel is most able to provide it.
Even Greece, traditionally the most anti-American European country — and ruled by the farleft anti-capitalist Syriza party — now sees a positive relationship with the United States as essential to
its security (though the Greeks want protection from the Germans).
They believe the United States will help them because of the American interest in an economically stable EU. An important exception to this rule is Hungary, which takes a dim view of the United States and seems broadly uninterested in its protection.
Despite Hungary’s chequered history with the Soviet Union and leader Viktor Orbán’s own history
of anti-communism, Hungary seems to prefer the Russian strongman to the American (or European) hectoring about democracy and rule of law. In this view, Hungary might conceivably be a harbinger of populist governments to come. A previous ECFR scorecard highlighted that the new “insurgent” parties that are challenging European governments across the continent take a staunchly anti-American line.2
In some cases anti-Americanism was stronger than any anti-EU perspective, with parties often.
Clinton vs. Trump
How countries feel about the United States seem to effectively determine how they approach the US presidential election. Clinton is clearly the candidate of continuity and as such is the preferred choice of those who already look favourably on the United States — this being almost every government and mainstream party in Europe.
But the Hungarian government is once again an important exception, having publicly expressed a preference for Donald Trump to win.3
Many of Europe’s insurgent parties follow suit. Europeans, like Americans, have been fascinated and of ten appalled by the Trump phenomenon. But overall, the survey makes clear that even Europeans opposed to Trump don’t see him in the same apocalyptic terms as his American opposition.
Trump is certainly seen as unpredictable and ignorant. If he is elected, many European countries believe that United States itself will become the most de-stabilising global issue. But a strong sense emerges from the surveys that either he doesn’t mean what he says on the campaign trail or that he will be effectively constrained by the US system of checks and balances from implementing them.
His threat of withdrawing from NATO and of banning Muslims from the United States, while certainly unwelcome, are not taken very seriously in Europe. This is a dangerously complacent notion. As a recent ECFRpaper makes clear, Trump has held his views on US alliances for a very long time and they are not mere whims of the campaign.
The power of the US presidency in foreign affairs means that the President’s wish is never far from policy. Europeans seem to recognise in Trump a populism that has long had an important influence in their own societies.
It has, of course, had important political effects in Europe and threatens to deliver many more in
the future, but the worst imagined excesses of populism in Europe have thus far been 3 Margit Feher, “Hungarian Prime Minister Expresses Support for Donald Trump”, the Wall Street Journal, 23 July 2016, available at http://www.wsj.com/articles/hungarianprime-minister-expresses-support-for-donald-trump-1469280755.
4 Jeremy Shapiro, “The everyday and the existential”. largely contained by strong institutions and civil societies. Europeans clearly hope that the same will be possible in a Trumpian United States.
Particularly in the eastern parts of the EU there have been concerns about Trump’s budding “bromance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This factor was probably decisive in stopping the Polish Law and Justice government for following Hungary’s lead in supporting Trump. But once
again, a broad view emerges that even here, the strength of the American system — and the inherent perfidy of Vladimir Putin — would soon lead even a Trump administration back onto the righteous path.
Leverage with the United States
One of the most interesting findings of our research is where Europeans think they have leverage with the next US administration. Overall, of course, Europeans do have great influence on US policy and great leverage, at least potentially, over US decisions. They have demonstrated this repeatedly on issues such as privacy, competition policy, and most recently, tax policy.
These, however, are broadly EU com- petences and many of the member states find potential for their individual leverage in places that are more surprising, at least from the perspective of this former US government official. TTIP is a good example.
Many EU member states see TTIP as a favour to the United States, which is not the way the US governmentsees a pact that is more economically beneficial to Europe. European governments believe that their veto power in any ratification of TTIP means they have leverage with the next US president which they can use in the course of the negotiations.
This difference in perception over who wants and needs the trade pact more may well help explain why the TTIP negotiations are progressing so slowly.5 Another curious example of presumed leverage emerges from Brexit.
Following Charles De Gaulle’s description, con- tinental Europeans have often viewed the UK as a “Trojan Horse” for the United States within the EU, even if the Unit- ed States didn’t see 5 Aline Robert, “TTIP: Negotiations ‘in the void'”, EurActiv, 26 September 2016, available
Now that Britain is leaving the EU, they believe the job is open and many member states hope to fill it. Several member states see themselves as well- placed to serve as a special interlocutor between the United States and the EU, including France, Germany, Spain and Portugal.
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