What does the US election mean for Europe?

By Madeline Roache

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once described US President Franklin Roosevelt as “the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the new world to the old”.

It is hard to imagine many European leaders saying the same about Donald Trump.

European leaders will find out who their American counterpart will be for the next four years when United States citizens cast their vote in the presidential election on November 3.

While Joe Biden is leading Trump in the national polls, that does not guarantee ​the Democratic candidate victory in the election; Hillary Clinton also had a clear lead over Trump in the polls throughout most of the 2016 campaign.

The Trump administration came as a “shock” to the transatlantic partnership, says Kristine Berzina, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a Washington, DC, based think-tank.

During the past four years, relations between the US and Europe have become frayed due to disagreements over policy, including security and trade.

With Biden as president, there would be a “dramatic turnaround in US policy towards Europe,” said Charles Kupchan, a professor at Georgetown University, who worked on European affairs in the Obama administration and is advising Biden’s campaign.


A second Trump term would “potentially put NATO unity at risk,” said Heather Williams, a nuclear security fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Trump has threatened to withdraw the US from NATO and to reduce American contributions if other members do not increase their spending.

In July this year, the US announced it was withdrawing about 12,000 troops from Germany, which Trump said was to punish Berlin for low defence spending. While some observers say Trump could attempt to withdraw the US from NATO in his second term, this move is unlikely due to opposition from Congress, said Kupchan.

A bigger concern for Kupchan is what he calls the “metaphorical fracturing of NATO”, in other words, Europeans losing trust in the US as a “durable partner”.

There is already evidence of this. According to Gallup polling, European disapproval of US leadership reached a record high of 61 percent in 2019.

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