The U.S. Election Through European Eyes
The first in a weekly series
There are two months to go before we’ll know whom to call the new leader of the free world. Two more months before we’ll know whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the president of Europe’s most important partner.
To say that the 2016 election is being followed with massive interest overseas would be quite an understatement. What most of us expected to be business as usual—another Clinton vs. Bush election, just like in 1992—has instead been a contest that has taken astonishing turns on a daily basis for the past 18 months.
Seen through the eyes of a European, it has been more than interesting. It has been, in turn, riveting, appalling, and at times frightening. Assumptions we have long taken for granted, assumptions central to the foundations of the U.S.-European alliance, have suddenly become open for discussion.
Free trade is one example. It is no secret that there are negotiations taking place between the United States and the EU about a proposed new trade agreement. Now, the process is in gridlock, on the way to nowhere.
The negotiation was expected to be difficult. Having 28 EU member states means 28 different sets of national interests and therefore a lot of back-and-forth before anything can happen. So it seemed that the main hurdle would be on our side of the Atlantic, especially considering that both President Obama and the GOP leadership supported the agreement. We know that bipartisanship is rare in Washington these days.
What we didn’t expect was that voters would turn on the elites of both parties. The Brexit vote, of all things, was a harbinger. Yet things change in politics. Now, with two months to go before Election Day, both American candidates act as though trade agreements such as TPP and TTIP are a particularly stinky cheese.
Another example is the longstanding national security collaboration between Europe and the United States. The NATO alliance is essential to all the European members and something we all value. For that reason, the messages coming from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are followed carefully.
To put it mildly, the waves of shock were significant on our side of the pond when Mr. Trump questioned the very underpinnings of NATO and raised the issue of whether he’d be committed to the alliance were he to become America’s next commander-in-chief.
Let’s put it this way: Europeans always pay attention to American presidential elections. But for several few reasons this one is being followed even more carefully than usual.
It is not just because of the horse race, the one-liners, the suspense, and the media theatrics. Our interest this time is rooted in something deeper. Something more profound. It is rooted in a partnership between America and Europe, which is both historic and close. The decision America makes on Nov. 8 matters greatly, both in Europe and the rest of the world. That is why most European eyes are currently looking across the Atlantic to see what is happening and what choice America makes two months from now.