On the 5th of November, while the entire world was still busy keeping an eye on the count of the electoral college, European Generation hosted an event in order to help students understand the implications of the American elections on Europe’s future.
The speakers Stefanini Stefano, former Ambassador and now Expert at ISPI, Mosca Alessia, former MEP, and De Vries Catherine, political sciences professor at Bocconi, lead a multifaceted discussion that managed to touch upon the most relevant topics in less than two hours. From Trump’s peculiar diplomatic approach to multilateral trade policy, from China’s role to Europeans’ perception of the US, you will be able to find each speaker’s contribution in the following three sections.
MULTILATERAL RELATIONS - Mr. Stefanini
It is safe to say that Trump had one of the most unconventional approaches when it comes to multilateral relations, especially if compared to past US Presidents. In foreign policy, in fact, every president from Harry Truman to George Bush shared some common principles. All of them were “anti-Soviet, pro-European integration, pro-trade, militarily interventionist, engaged in if not always deferent to international organizations [...]”. With these in mind, Trump cannot simply be called an isolationist. His approach goes far beyond that. In these four years as President, he valued tactical alliances over multilateral negotiations in order to retain bargaining power, he distanced himself from the transatlantic alliance and any other commitment that imposed a certain level of cooperation (a simple example: the Paris Agreement or the relations with WTO) and by doing all this incredibly weakened an already fragile Europe. Four more years of Trump presidency would have been incredibly harmful, especially in the context of the COVID-induced recession.
Since we know however that Biden has won the elections, we might be able to expect a more mainstream approach when it comes to foreign policy. However, as Mr. Stefanini pointed out, we should still keep a realistic approach and understand that the U.S remains a very polarized nation, highly influenced by what is referred to as the “Trump phenomenon”, which will not go away easily. Because of this, Biden’s presidency might end up being extremely focused on internal struggles, dismissing once again the need for a stronger U.S international presence and foreign policy.
TRADE - Mrs. Mosca
Under the Trump administration, the same unconventional approach was applied to commerce, and we came to experience what Mrs. Mosca calls a “weaponized trade policy”, that is a trade policy with the goal of weakening and dividing even more the counterparts rather than fostering cooperation and economic growth. If we analyze this phenomenon with respect to Europe, it consisted of picking tariffs that would explicitly affect some member states more than others. This, of course, would trigger Europe to react with retaliation, with the problem that the decisions to be taken, being extremely political, lacked unanimous consensus and were therefore not only ineffective, but even more divisive.
According to Mrs. Mosca, the main trade challenges the U.S faces nowadays are:
1) Climate change:
Even if this issue might not seem related to a trade policy, in reality the links between them are getting stronger and stronger (for instance, think about tradable emissions permits). It is in this field that the difference between Trump and Biden grows exponentially. The former is known to be skeptical of the existence of the phenomenon itself, while the latter recognizes its validity and the importance for countries to address it. Therefore, with Biden’s presidency, we can expect the U.S to re-sign the Paris agreement (if Congress manages to obtain the votes needed) and to be more proactive at a global level.
2) Digital trade:
In this field, the difference between Trump and Biden narrows down. Still, we might hope for a higher cooperation with Biden than what we would have achieved with Trump.
Also in this case the difference between the two candidates is not significant, as both of them would have continued Trump’s hard approach.
Last but not least, multilateral trade relations (especially through WTO) will be greatly impacted by Biden’s presidency, as the differences with Trump in this field grow again.
PUBLIC OPINION - Mrs. De Vries
If we look at Europeans’ opinions regarding the U.S, we find out that the values and ideas that have influenced entire generations are slowly fading away. For instance, Europeans don’t perceive the US as the “defenders of the international liberal order” any longer, as studies done by professor De Vries suggest. Other results show that the American model of democracy is often considered ineffective, that the main interest we have in common with the U.S is purely economic and not based on values or politics and, finally, that these answers highly change across Member States. In fact, eastern countries (especially Poland) tend to have a more positive evaluation of the U.S, while western countries tend to be less optimistic about the “American Way”.
Regardless of the topic analyzed, all three speakers particularly agreed on one concept: the idea that Europe should not wait for the U.S elections to shape itself. Europe should, in fact, become more structured, more independent, and more united, regardless of the changes in the leadership of the U.S. This is even more relevant if we take into consideration the recent evolution of the role of the U.S in a multilateral context. In fact, the differences in opinions from one president to another have increased so much that nowadays they comprise not only economic principles and social values, but also the role that the U.S should have at a global level. You could have one president committing to climate change, then the next one dismantling any agreement signed, and so on and so forth. This creates uncertainty and instability, which are highly detrimental in a context where cooperation and strategic planning are used to tackle global problems that are imposing negative externalities and consequences on future generations.
Once again, these considerations suggest that the best strategic solution Europe can implement is not tied to the development of the U.S, but is instead to focus on itself, particularly on the strengths derived from a greater unity.