1989 Generation Initiative

Written by Barbara Aubin (Head of Content)

On the 4th of November, the 1989 Generation Initiative held a roundtable at the London School of Economics, drawing together a mix of Masters students and EU experts to discuss the looming US elections, considering in particular the likely implications for the EU in foreign policy terms. Participants explored the potential consequences of victory for both candidates, before suggesting appropriate ways forward for the EU within the new international context. We were joined among others by Cora Lacatus, Research Associate at the Dahrendorf Forum at LSE IDEAS and Jennifer Jackson-Preece, Deputy Head of the European Institute and Associate Professor of Nationalism.

Please Note: The views expressed below represent those of the participants in attendance at the roundtable, not of the 1989 Generation Initiative as a whole, nor of the European Institute.

It was agreed by participants that the EU should re-emphasise the crucial importance of the NATO alliance and close transatlantic relations. In the longer term, greater European cooperation and, ultimately, integration in the sphere of defence should occur regardless of who wins the White House. Given the unique challenges faced by the EU in its immediate neighbourhood, this will become all the more expedient over time. However, European leaders must first establish a solid social and economic base in a bid to regenerate trust and hope in the EU among its citizens. Until such time, any attempts at defence integration will encounter significant popular opposition. The conclusions are further outlined below.

Clinton vs. Trump: Foreign Policy implications for Europe

In foreign policy terms, the election campaign has revealed an unpredictable Republican candidate juggling between interventionist and isolationist discourses. On the one hand, Donald Trump wants to “bomb the hell out of ISIS”, whilst on the other, curtailing free trade agreements and restricting immigration. It was agreed that a Trump win does not bode well for the European Union considering his sympathy for Putin and Erdogan as well as his questionable commitment to US involvement within NATO. Trump may place as a condition of his continued commitment to NATO the more active involvement of other members in supporting the alliance. Here, we might expect greater defence spending by European states.

At the same time, a President Trump that distances the US from the rest of NATO will place new pressure on Europe to fend for itself in terms of security. Moreover, his apparent protectionism and opposition to free trade raises questions over the future of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) – the signing of which represents a core policy objective of the European Commission. If TTIP were to stall indefinitely, Europe may look to other global markets.

Perhaps most importantly, the campaign has shed light on a particular set of trends that, if left unaddressed, will have dangerous implications for the entire Western World, and in particular the European Union. The populist wave that is in evidence across much of the west is best explained as the delayed political fallout from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. The Crisis and its Eurozone cousin have starkly crystallised the divide between so-called ‘winners’ from globalisation and its less fortunate ‘losers’. The Trump campaign forms part of a growing group of influential populist movements that rail against the liberal status quo. Victory for Trump would no doubt strengthen and validate these groups; whilst a Clinton win would not pacify them. In both cases, latent social divisions will continue to fester. Failure to address these would see political discourse shift further towards the extremes, precluding any attempt to engender common, open and collaborative politics at EU or member state level.

Building solid economic and social foundations

Whether Clinton or Trump is elected, the immediate response of the EU should be to send a strong message of commitment to the Transatlantic relationship. Whichever candidate enters the White House, the EU will continue to benefit much from strong economic, cultural and security ties with the US.
At the same time, discussions over a common EU defence capability should proceed, independent of the result. Europe faces its own unique threats, to which the US would not wish to devote much attention, for lack of resources and willpower. Ukraine, Syria and the refugee crisis are principally concerns of the European neighbourhood and the EU cannot continue to rely on the US for its security guarantee. To this end, the roundtable welcomed the articulation by the HR/VP Federica Mogherini of a new European Security Strategy. Its release prior to the US Elections demonstrates an increasing willingness among European leaders to pursue independent security policies tailored towards addressing these particular challenges.

However, further steps towards a common defence capability would at this stage be politically unfeasible, and thus, must be cautiously staged. The aforementioned group of populist movements display deep concerns about globalisation and liberal internationalism. In Europe, this has been expressed through renewed nationalism and calls to leave the EU. With the EU now greatly unpopular, attempts at further integration – particularly in sensitive areas such as defence – may serve only to stoke existing flames and give further ammunition to anti-European movements. The US election campaign demonstrates the need, more than ever, for a new inclusive politics centred on individuals, their hopes and aspirations. If the EU is to survive in the long-term, it must learn lessons from Brexit and the rise of Trump, addressing the social and economic causes of their occurrence. A social and economic underpinning that provides a framework of hope and opportunity for all citizens must precede all attempts at integration in areas such as defence. The latter has long been associated with the symbolic prerogative of states and before the EU can pursue any integration in this area it must first regain the trust and belief of its citizens.

This Roundtable is part of our wider current affairs series ‘Talking Europe’. Update: We have updated our Report to accomodate the result of the election. You can download the full report here.

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