The question, where the relationship between the European Union and the United States is headed has been preoccupying the experts for some time, especially since Donald Trump’s first major foreign policy address. Initially, there are real concerns among European elites that Europe would take a backseat in terms of U.S. priorities.
The US-EU relations have been characterised by close economic, political and security cooperations. It is a well-known fact that Europeans have relied heavily since the end of WW II on the United States. The U.S. has guaranteed Europe’s security for decades, effectively placing a giant security umbrella over most of the Continent. These efforts have always been based on the idea that Europe’s security and prosperity are a core American interest and therefore must be protected. But this might change now as Washington is reducing it’s international engagement. A policy that could continue under the next U.S. president, especially if Trump becomes president.
But what would that mean for Europe if Trump becomes President of the United States? Many Europeans fear the consequences of a Trump victory and a weakening of the Transatlantic relationship. Trump has criticised the European leaders as „weak“ and accused them of taking inadequate measures to combat terrorism following the attacks on Brussels in March. Trump’s rhetoric raised alarm in countries that still rely on the superpower for defense, particularly the phrase „America first“. Earlier in the U.S. nomination process, European foreign policy leaders condemn Trump openly and publicly. Meanwhile, with Trump now seen as likely to win the presidential elections, officials not only in Europe but all around the world are more circumspect in public. The fear grows that a Trump administration may further undermine European security by creating more uncertainties and dangerous power vacuum.
The idea behind Trump’s foreign policy is that he is going to get a „better deal“ from US allies and a better deal means European allies will have to pay for American protection. He will expect Europe to shoulder the burden for dealing with conflicts that are European not American problems.
Clinton offers continuation
Opinion polls in the U.S. showed that the race for the White House is too close to call. Notwithstanding, it is generally agreed today that if Europeans had a vote in the US 2016 election, many of them would vote for Hillary particularly as they are terrified of a President Trump. Many believe that she would continue the current U.S. foreign policy while having a more Euro-atlantic vision which is why Clinton is not much of a concern among Europeans. Hillary wants to strengthen the essential partnerships that are in her opinion a substantial source of America’s power and leadership.
She could signal the return of a more classic, traditional vision of U.S. foreign policy and world affairs. However, we should make no mistake because even though Hillary Clinton has portrayed herself as Obama’s natural successor, the next president will want an ally that can bring added value and not be a burden. Even under President Clinton, Europe cannot expect that the United States will continue to support European defense at current levels. In future it will be necessary for Europeans to formulate their own approach with a greater focus on representation of European interests around the globe. Europe and the United States still share many values, but Europe will have to sort out it’s own internal problems, regain a sense of solidarity, and demonstrate a wider vision about Europe’s role in the world. For now, the European allies remain the partners of first choice for the United States, but it can be assumed with certainty that Hillary Clinton will demand for Europeans to take greater responsibility for their own security.
It’s clear as daylight, that the United States face limitations on what it can do, but the United States cannot afford indifference in terms of EU-relations. A weak, fractured, or failed EU would have terrible consequences for the United States, the global economy, and the wider region. Still, Europe has not yet learned to be that power itself, and it is unclear whether it has the will and the ability to become such a power. It is important to emphasize that it is the time for Europe to overcome the domestic challenges and to remain stable internally and externally. One thing that is clear: The EU leaders have failed to fill the vacuum left by Washington by not being able to create a real functioning foreign and defence common policy.
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