Analysis

What's at stake for Europe as America votes?

05.11.12 @ 09:16

  1. By Benjamin Fox
  2. Benjamin email

Washington - On Tuesday (6 November) America goes to the polls, with President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney still in a statistical dead-heat.

  • After four years in the White House, Obama enjoys a 70% approval rating in Europe. (Photo: White House)

Millions of Europeans will stay up until the early hours of Wednesday morning eagerly awaiting the result.

There is little doubt which candidate most Europeans prefer. Obama has enjoyed stratospheric personal ratings among Europeans ever since the 2008 presidential campaign and now - even after a sometimes troubled and underwhelming four year term - enjoys a near 70 approval rating.

But it is difficult to say that Europe has benefited much from his presidency.

Apart from the occasional lecture to EU leaders on the need to get their economic house in order, the US has largely stayed out of the eurozone debt crisis and the austerity versus stimulus debate - the major fault line in European politics.

Over the course of his three election campaign debates in 2012, Europe was mentioned just once in passing.

Meanwhile, Guantanamo bay remains open and US troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Doha trade round remains blocked and there has been almost no movement on cutting carbon emission. So why the fuss and what, if anything, will change after Tuesday?

For their part, EU diplomatic sources are happy with the quality of relations and think little will change regardless of who is elected.

Talks on a possible EU-US free trade deal started in November 2011 and are expected to continue under either Obama or Romney.

But Republicans on capitol hill are critical of the fact that only two EU countries, the UK and Greece, are keeping to their Nato commitment to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defence. EU sources in the US acknowledge that defence could join the eurozone crisis as a bugbear for the US.

That said, it is clear that the US treats the EU as a partner rather than as a problem.

Ted Bromund of the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington says that the Obama White House is "the first administration not to regard Europe as the most important part of the world."

He thinks that a Romney presidency would focus on developing relations with India and with allies in central and latin America.

So if little will change, why the European fascination with the presidency and hopes for Obama's re-election?

The obvious appeal of the US presidential election is that it is the biggest, glitziest political game in town.

The US is the only democratic superpower in the world. By the end of the campaign both candidates will have individually raised over $1 billion. With between 120-130 million Americans expected to vote, the two candidates will spend an average of $10 for each vote.

Professional political activists and campaign junkies are also hooked on US politics.

The most innovative and professionalised campaign strategies start in the US and are then exported by political operatives from across Europe. Methods of communication and spin and the discipline of the campaign machine is also a US invention.

If 2008 was the first genuine Internet election, with Obama organising an online grass-roots campaign that based its funding on millions of individual cash donations, 2012 is about Twitter.

A whopping 14 million tweets were made during the Democrat and Republican conventions in September, of which 14,000 per minute came during Romney's speech and 28,000 during Michelle Obama's.

The Twitter war then went up another gear during the three Presidential debates, with an average of 150,000 tweets per minute. 

Much of Obama's popularity is owed to the toxicity of his predecessor and his opponents.

Few EU countries backed George W. Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and even fewer backed his presidency.

European political discourse is also a couple of ticks to the left of the US. Asked recently which candidate he supports, French leader Francois Hollande dead-panned "who do you think?" - although being endorsed by a French socialist is hardly likely to appear on any Obama campaign material ahead of polling day.

In fact, it is difficult to think that a President Romney would enjoy many European allies.

While there is a distinct Tea-Party vibe amongst the more right-wing eurosceptics in the British conservative party, British leader David Cameron would probably prefer an Obama presidency. As for Merkel, Monti, Rajoy et al - "who do you think?" would be their answer too.

If Obama does secure re-election it will also buck the trend and provide encouragement to Europe's incumbent leaders.

Since the financial crisis began in 2007-8 very few are still standing. Of the western G20 leaders, only Germany's Angela Merkel and Canada's Stephen Harper remain in power.

As far as Europe is concerned, the result of the Presidential race will probably change little. But this week that hardly matters. On Tuesday America votes - and the world watches.