Donald Trump’s four years in the White House have shaken the outer board. Both allied and rival countries have a lot at stake at the polls
Between resignation and hope, and in the shadow of a new wave of coronavirus, the world looks with the utmost expectation at the US Donald Trump’s term, marked by unilateralism and trade disputes, has shaken the international board and has dynamited some traditional Washington alliances. Some international players hope that he will win re-election, but others are confident that a Joe Biden victory will at least smooth over the edges. The Democrat, despite everything, also does not arouse enthusiasm among some of those who prefer a change in the leadership of the world’s leading power.
The health, social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic keeps European leaders absorbed, with little time to look to the other side of the Atlantic. But over Brussels and the rest of European capitals the shadow of a second victory for Donald Trump in the elections of November 3 or, worse still, that of a defeat not admitted by the current occupant of the White House.
Never before has the European Union faced the risk of a failed election in the greatest power on the planet. With some irony, one MEP has even proposed that Brussels send an observer mission to verify that the US elections comply with the democratic standards that the EU usually demands of countries with suspected political networks.
The unknown about the electoral outcome contrasts with the clear conviction that, whoever wins, the major trends in the transatlantic relationship will remain unchanged. “There will be nuances if the Democrat Joe Biden reaches the White House, but a sharp turn in US international politics cannot be expected,” says a senior official at the European Commission.
Brussels assumes that Washington will continue to ignore the security of the old continent, a trend that began under the presidency of Barack Obama and accentuated with Trump. The second major trend that will continue to affect Europe will be the confrontation between the US and China, “a policy in which both Republicans and Democrats agree,” says a community source.
Faced with these two invariable trends, the European Union awaits the US elections between resignation and mistrust. The EU and, in particular, its main partner, Germany, arrive scared after four years of disagreements with the Trump Administration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron tried, with little luck, to ingratiate themselves with the peculiar American leader, confident that the exercise of power would lead him to value the transatlantic relationship.
More successful was the former President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who achieved a trade truce. But the current president, Ursula von der Leyen, has only had a brief meeting with Trump and her long-awaited visit to the White House was postponed sine die as a result of the pandemic and little interest on the other side of the Atlantic.
Faced with the unlikely return of a transatlantic relationship as close as the one at the end of the 20th century, the EU prefers to turn to its strategic sovereignty agenda, once postponed and now accelerated in response to the Trump gale. “Our agenda is not going to vary either whoever wins,” warns a senior community official. Commission sources believe that a Trump defeat would soften friction with Washington and perhaps allow international consensus to be restored on issues such as Iran or the fight against climate change. But they suspect that multilateralism will not be like 2016 again and with that calculation in mind they await the reelection of the 45th US president or the arrival of the 46th. And they do not rule out that the transition, if it occurs, will be as turbulent and conflictive as the four years that are now ending.
The relationship between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, and the American President, Donald Trump, has always been more the fruit of mutual convenience and personal friendship than of a shared political and international vision. In fact, the then mayor of London did more in 2016, during his visit to New York, to be close to the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, than to woo Trump.
The continuity of the Republican in the White House, however, was until now a fundamental piece in the post-Brexit strategy of the British Conservative Government. Not so much for his staunch defense of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU – which on many occasions has become an untimely interference in the internal politics of his ally – as for his firm commitment to a future trade agreement that could replace , at least for the gallery, the gaps caused by the break with the EU.
Democrat Joe Biden has shown no particular enthusiasm for the exotic British prime minister. He has also made clear his rejection of Brexit. And what is more serious, he has clearly shown his irritation at the approval of the Internal Market Act promoted by Downing Street, a unilateral failure of the commitments made by London when signing the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU that puts stability at risk of peace in Ireland reached with the Good Friday Agreement. Biden, of Irish descent, has expressed black on white his rejection of any future trade agreement with the United Kingdom if that legal text remains in force.
Johnson’s team has been shocked by surprise. The powerful machinery that controls Biden’s campaign has established a wall of isolation from the rest of the world, to avoid suspicions of external interference like those that contaminated the presidential elections four years ago. And so Downing Street has been unable to begin to build bridges with what, according to polls, could be the next US Administration.