What does Europe expect from results of US 2020 election?

Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was a real shock for the European allies of the US. Back then, a number of politicians and experts had a feeling that they could wait 4 years for a “good president”. 4 years later, Europe is again faced with the question of what to expect from candidates and whether the outcome of the US elections can save the “old good transatlantic relationship”.

Despite the fact that European political leaders avoid speaking out which of the candidates is preferable for them, it is obvious that the leading countries of the EU would like Joe Biden to win and fear Donald Trump’s victory. In particular, Germany believes that if Trump win, relations between the EU and the US, Germany, and the US will face an “Ice Age”. European countries fear that Trump’s re-election could lead to new tariffs (for example, on cars), to a WTO crisis and even threaten the future of NATO.

However, there are also exceptions. Some countries of Central and Eastern Europe treat Trump better. Despite the general deterioration of European-American relations after Trump’s victory, American-Polish relations have improved unprecedentedly. Trump does not criticize policies of his Polish counterpart. Warsaw is impressed by Trump’s tough stance towards Russia, moreover, Poland wants to achieve the deployment of an additional American military contingent (Fort Trump) on its territory. Good personal relations between Donald Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda are also an important factor. Trump’s re-election would be beneficial for Warsaw, it would try to strengthen its role as a mediator between Washington and Brussels.

However, despite the fact that most European leaders would like Biden to win, they do not expect a return to the old transatlantic relations of the Cold War period or even to the time of the Obama government.

If the Democratic candidate wins, some improvements are predicted, first of all, the resumption of US participation in some international organizations and agreements, for example, WHO and the Paris Climate Agreement. Regarding the resumption of the “deal with Iran”, German experts express cautious hopes, but unfortunately, there is no complete confidence that Biden will renew the JCPOA.

Europe does not expect fundamental changes in the American protectionist trade policy (including the rapid end of customs disputes with the EU) and sanctions policy. Firstly, the sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and China were political ideas of the Congress, and secondly, Biden is also known for his critical attitude towards Beijing’s policies and the Nord Stream 2 project. Different EU-states have different feelings among the Democratic candidate’s solidarity with Trump over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The leader of the European Union, Germany, is sharply dissatisfied with the American position and considers the sanctions against the gas pipeline as a manifestation of American protectionism, an attempt to force Europe to buy American LNG. On the contrary, Poland and partly the Baltic and CEE countries supported Trump’s rhetoric, they are reassured that if Biden wins, American policy will not change.

If Biden wins, radical changes of the US foreign policy in many areas are also not expected. Biden, like Trump, will demand a greater contribution of the EU countries to defense, moreover, in connection with the evolving economic crisis, these demands will intensify. No major changes in US policy towards Ukraine and Russia are expected. The fact that both American parties are united in their tough policy towards Moscow is a source of satisfaction for Poland and the Baltic states and anxiety for the European leader-countries, which would like Russia and the United States to agree on disarmament issues. Berlin and Paris would not also want Washington to intervene in the Ukrainian crisis, it is obvious that these countries prefer the Normandy format. It is no secret for the EU countries that Biden also supports a tough policy towards Beijing. The European Union worries that the Biden government may consider Europe as a partner in the confrontation with China, which will threaten the EU’s own interests in cooperation with the PRC.

We can conclude that most EU countries would like the victory of the Democratic candidate, but European leaders have no illusion that relations could return to the “before-Trump” position if Biden wins. Accordingly, the leading EU states, whatever the outcome of the elections, will cautiously move towards strengthening their autonomy. However, countries of Central and Eastern Europe oppose the retreat from transatlantic relations and the strengthening of autonomy, because they consider America as a defender against Russia and rely more on NATO’s defense capabilities, rather than the European armed forces and PESCO.

At the same time, we should not exaggerate the EU’s desire for autonomy. This is a long and slow process. Moreover, an EU-leader Germany emphasizes that the EU’s ambition to strengthen its autonomy does not contradict the relationship with the US and does not threaten NATO commitments. The question is also to what extent Europe is able to become autonomous. The long and unsuccessful attempts of the EU to counter US policy on the „Iran deal” show that an autonomous Europe is still weak.

From our partner MNA

Maria Khorolskaya
Maria Khorolskaya
Dr. Maria Khorolskaya is a research fellow of the Department for European Political Studies, Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), Russian Academy of Sciences