Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the international challenges shaping Europe's role in the world.
Jonas Parello-Plesnersenior policy fellow European Council on Foreign Relations
In 2008, Obama could have run for president anywhere in Europe – and won comfortably. After the Bush years, the change agenda inspired Europeans. The initial infatuation has now dissipated, and after four years Europeans see Obama more realistically. Guantanamo has not been shut down and drone attacks are now far more frequent than in the Bush-era. Still, the natural inclination for many Europeans is towards Obama among the two candidates.
On foreign policy, the reality is that there would be a great deal of continuity in the agenda of both a second Obama and a first Romney administration. Yes, Romney has muscled up on Iran and on China but this is the stuff made in campaigns. This kind of rhetoric has been a consistent part of presidential campaigns, witness Bill Clinton’s ‘butchers of Beijing’ reference during his first campaign in 1992, which subsequently made it take time for Clinton to establish a working relationship with China.
And more fundamentally for Europeans, both candidates are likely to continue the gradual shift in focus away from Europe as embodied in the Obama-initiated pivot to Asia. The attention span of any incoming American administration will be directed towards maintaining its stance as a Pacific power. For centuries Europe was considered the navel of the world, as it was defined by the Greeks. But now the axis mundi will pivot to somewhere in the South China Sea in the orbit of the Middle Kingdom. In such a shift of geography, Europe can instead be perceived as a peninsular appendix attached to the larger Eurasian landmass.
This redirection of American foreign policy means Europeans will be more responsible for their own security in the neighborhood. Already back in 1999 with Kosovo, the Americans indicated that this would be a last stand on European soil. Libya showed that Europeans can still act within their neighborhood, but with increasing austerity measures and reduced military capacities this might prove more difficult. As my colleague, Nick Witney has argued a rapid sharing of resources is necessary to avoid the demilitarization of Europe.
Be it Romney or Obama, Europeans have to wake up to a new world where the natural American focus on its European allies remains reduced.
Fabrizio Goriafinancial reporter at Linkiesta
2013 will be a crucial year for Europe and the eurozone. The European Central Bank and the European Commission have introduced two instruments of financial stabilization, the Outright Monetary Transactions and the European Stability Mechanism. Unfortunately, it is not clear if these will work when Spain seeks help, then the road to preserve Italy from contagion will be difficult. Europe, divided by different interests from country to country, needs certainty. In this sense, a second term of Barack Obama as President of the United States could be crucial to continue the dialogue that began several months ago. Europe should be worried about the inconsistencies displayed by Romney during his summer tour of Europe. In addition, the Republican candidate showed a significant intolerance to Europe, considered more as a source of a potentially contagious crisis for the United States rather than a business partner to revive global growth. However, the biggest concern is that during the last debate between Obama and Romney there was no talk about the crisis in Europe. And the expansion of the European crisis is one of the greatest threats for the United States. The power of Obama, both soft and hard power, is less than in the past, but it is still present. In contrast, it is not clear where Romney's strength lies. Between the certain and the uncertain, the best is the certain way.
Jackson Janes executive director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University
The elections on November 6 will not fundamentally change the parameters of the dialogue between Europe and Washington. A second term for President Obama will continue to be shaped primarily by American interests, no less than under a President Romney. How those interests will overlap, or possibly conflict with those of European partners, will depend on how both sides conduct a dialogue which is candid, transparent, and aware of the environment in which both sides shape their policies.
There will be several continuities regardless of who is President. There will be a continuing concern about the ongoing efforts in Europe to stabilize both the Euro and the European economic markets. The United States has an enormous stake in the future of the world's largest single market and it is clear in Washington that Germany remains the leader of that future. In addition, the ability of Europe to continue its path toward a larger and more integrated entity can be seen as an increasingly capable partner in dealing with challenges beyond the transatlantic community.
Whether that includes the future course of Russia, China, India or Iran, or indeed the entire arc of the Arab world, and implications for Israel or Turkey, the ability of Europe to forge a common course with the United States will be a focus of attention in the White House whoever occupies it. The specific case of the future of Afghanistan will continue to preoccupy both Washington and Europe in light of the ten year investment made in that war-torn country. A similar focus on Egypt's future in the larger arc of Arab states will require the attention of both sides of the Atlantic.
How a second Obama administration might differ from Romney in approaching these challenges remains difficult to predict.
That is in part due to the fact that Europe in general has not played a leading role in the Obama campaign and, to the degree it has emerged in the Romney campaign, it has appeared in a negative light in terms of being a warning for the U.S. on sovereign debt threats and government regulatory policies.
Given his background, Romney might pursue a greater focus on free trade initiatives, including with the EU. However he might also take a more aggressive stance on Iran's nuclear ambitions and support more threats of military responses. Indirectly, his criticism of Obama's emphasis on negotiations with Russia, among other countries, might appear as an indirect critique of European, particularly German, approaches to dealing with challenges.
While the majority of Europeans in a popular vote may prefer an Obama reelection, a Romney presidency should not be equated with a reincarnation of George W. Bush. The rhetoric of campaigns does not transform seamlessly into policy. And it is not lost among Americans that there is not a clear consensus among the European elite on President Obama. Romney’s visit to Poland last summer was one illustration of such, despite the embarrassing moments in London.
One aspect of presidential policies always can shape perceptions abroad: the selection of the faces of American foreign policy. With the expected departure of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, a second Obama term would bring a new team on the stage and they would signal the priorities of the next Presidency. The same would be true of a Romney team, which would need to establish their own profile in light of the lack of one for Romney.
In any case, whatever happens after November 6, one other factor is crucial for Europeans to understand, the composition of the Congress will determine certain constraints on the President in terms of money, his cabinet, and other administration members who need Congressional approval, and finally on treaties. If the Congress remains divided as it is now, neither Romney nor Obama will find an easy path ahead.
Stephen F. Szaboexecutive director at GMF, Transatlantic Academy
There is no doubt who Europeans would vote for in the American elections if they could. According the Transatlantic Trends and other surveys, Europeans would vote for Obama by margins of around 7 or 8 to 1. This is largely due to a fear that a Romney election would bring a return of the neo-conservative foreign policy of the first George W Bush term. These fears are not really justified, although given some of the Romney rhetoric, one can understand why they exist. However the reality is that given the fiscal constraints and the war weariness of the American public, there is little appetite in the U.S. for new foreign adventures, and for going it alone. The foreign policy debate between the two candidates last week illustrated the large degree of continuity between the two on foreign policy. Obama will be viewed in retrospect as the first President of a post-American world, and his successors, including Romney, will have to adjust to this new American role. Europeans should remember the differences in foreign policy between the first, neocon Bush term and its second term realism. Clearly Obama has more foreign policy experience and Romney's lack of interest in, or knowledge of, the world is deeply unsettling, although most American presidential candidates are not deeply steeped in foreign policy. The President is likely to spend more time on foreign policy in a second term given the opposition of a Republican dominated Congress to his domestic policies, and he is likely to continue his largely realist foreign policies. All in all Obama remains the preferred option for Europe, but as in the U.S., there should be little expectation of a dynamic second term or exaggerated fears of what a Romney foreign policy would mean in practice.