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30th Jul 2016

US election result raises concerns in Europe

Most pundits are predicting strained times in EU-US relations after crushing losses by Barack Obama's Democratic Party in midterm elections. But the centre-right European People's Party has congratulated the US Republican opposition party on its victory.

"Because domestic policy - not foreign policy - was put to the vote in America, I do not anticipate any ruptures in relations with Europe," German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle told German ZDF public broadcaster on Wednesday (3 November) after the US vote count came in.

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  • Barack Obama has failed to convince voters in the mid-term elections (Photo: White House)

He insisted on the "strength" of the American president and his country which, in Mr Westerwelle's opinion will preserve "continuity" in US foreign policy.

A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel was also positive, saying he expects "little change" in US foreign policy after the Republicans took control of Congress by a comfortable margin and left the Democrats with a razor-thin majority of just two seats in the Senate.

The only EU politician openly cheering the development was the European People's Party leader, Wilfried Martens.

The Belgian politician congratulated the Republican Party "for winning yesterday's mid-term elections" and announced the visit to Washington of a "high-level EPP delegation" in December. "With the continuation of the global economic and financial crisis, the political dynamics in the US are continuing to evolve in a dramatic way and, among others, underline the importance of strengthening the transatlantic partnership," he said in a statement.

The EPP is an umbrella organisation of all centre-right parties in Europe, currently counting 14 heads of state and government, including Ms Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Some large opposition parties, such as the Popular Party in Spain, are also affiliated with the EPP.

Pundits on both sides of the Atlantic predict bad times ahead for policies close to the EU's heart, however.

"Mr Obama could not pass climate change legislation this year despite having a nine-seat majority in the US Senate. Next year, US climate change legislation is dead," Bruce Stokes, an expert with the German Marshall Fund of the US, a Washington-based think-tank, said.

Expectations are even lower when it comes to the EU-US summit on 20 November, to be held on the margins of a larger Nato summit at the same time in Lisbon

The leader of the Liberals in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has called on the EU representatives to approach the US government on the issue of war crimes in Iraq, as revealed by the Wikileaks documents published last month.

EU officials say the item will not make it onto the agenda however, in a situation reflecting the weakness of transatlantic diplomacy for some.

"Wikileaks is rather a no-go at the summit," Ulrike Guerot from the European Council on Foreign Relations told this website. "But it reflects the history. We are losing the emotional glue with the US. My kids are born after 9/11. They have not experienced a 'good America,' they have only read about them as the bad guys."

Russian officials have for their part said the ratification of a Russia-US treaty aimed at reducing nuclear arsenals could be in jeopardy.

"If they can't do this in the lame-duck session in the next couple of weeks, the chances for ratification by the new Senate will be radically lower," said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the State Duma, as quoted by Wall Street Journal.

Mr Kosachev has asked the Russian parliament to halt its ratification procedure for now, potentially dealing a blow to the Obama administration's 'reset' in Russia-US ties.

President Barack Obama has assumed some responsibility for the defeat, acknowledging that the US public is "deeply frustrated" with the pace of the economic recovery. Facing a divided government, he also said that he will have to work harder to build consensus in Washington.

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