With the upcoming US presidential elections in November 2012, the race for the White House is in full gear as both Democratic and Republican Parties are currently holding primaries. The first Republican presidential debate was held on May 5th of last year, followed by more than 25 others. As with any election, it is as interesting to see what is being talked about, as it is to see what is left out. So, what are Republican candidates saying (or not) about Europe?
Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was greeted with popular enthusiasm in Europe and seen by European politicians , as an opportunity to improve the transatlantic ties that had suffered so much during the George W. Bush era. Obama, a declared multilateralist, seemed to be ideologically closer to European traditions of social democracy on issues such as healthcare reforms, tax reform or climate change.
The moment seemed ripe for renewed and improved transatlantic cooperation. However, the cancellation of Obama’s visit to the EU-US summit held in Madrid in May 2010, among others, marked yet another blow to transatlantic relations. Amongst the reasons put forward for this cancellation, Obama’s domestic woes certainly need to be taken into account. Against a backdrop of minimal state interventionism, Obama’s “social democratic” healthcare reforms, caused much debate and disarray in American political circles.
From Blatant Anti-European Rhetoric …
Obama has often been portrayed as being too European in his policies, even if such a depiction is misguided. Although most (Republican and Democratic) candidates scarcely mention foreign policy, let alone the EU, in electoral debates, this vision is often reiterated by Republican candidate Mitt Romney, as a critique of Obama’s presidential tenure. In his New Hampshire primary victory speech, Romney said the Obama administration was the “worst of what Europe has become”.
From this victory speech, it seems that Romney is running as much against Europe - or American perceptions of the Old Continent - as he is against Obama. Europe was depicted as socialistic and weak, and lacking inspiration when compared to the shining American model. President Obama, Romney stated, “takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and towns across America for our inspiration.” Obama wants to “turn America into a European-style social welfare state. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity.” In Iowa, Romney warned voters that Obama’s policies are making the US “more and more like Europe.”
… to a General Lack of Interest …
Europe is set to become the cultural scapegoat of Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Other candidates however are not picking up the anti-European platform; in fact it is a general lack of interest in Europe that characterises the US electoral debate. During the Republican debate of 11 October 2011, which focused on the economy, there were barely a few words about one of the most important economic issues of the moment : the eurozone debt crisis and its potential effects on the US. Only one question was asked about the eurozone crisis and Romney stated that a financial meltdown is only “hypothetical” and as such it was not worth dwelling on.
Neither was the eurozone crisis widely discussed in the GOP debate of 12 November 2011, which focused on foreign affairs. While the candidates debated about Pakistan, Iran, China and Afghanistan, it was only the very last question which dealt with the eurozone crisis. While candidates may not be too fond of this topic, Romney and Paul did come out against a possible European bailout, even if a collapse of the eurozone would have significant repercussions on the global and American economy. The eurozone crisis seems indeed to be more important to the day-to-day life of the US than are the Russian elections or Chinese hegemony. But few candidates seem to remember that.
In fact, the EU and US economies are so intertwined that if Europe was to collapse, the US would be compromised as well. The EU is the US’ largest trading partner, with $240 billion worth of US goods exported to Europe every year (according to 2010 figures). The EU-US trade economy is the largest bilateral economic relationship in the world today; in terms of services, the EU is the US’ number one export market. Moreover, 70% of job created by foreign direct investment (FDI) in the US comes from the EU: be it the jobs in Wall Street, or for Volkswagen, which invested $1 billion to build a plant in Tennessee, or in the BMW factory in Spartanburg, S.C., with its 2010 investment of $750 million. To say or to suggest that the European economy has nothing to do with the US economy or its job growth is to forget the effects of globalisation.
… a Convenient Association.
American banks understand this, Wall Street certainly does too, as well as the Federal Reserve System. But for some reason, Romney prefers to use the eurozone crisis as a campaign platform to appeal to the xenophobic part of the electorate. Considering the general lack of interest in Europe by most candidates, the question is why is Romney running on this blatant and simplistic anti-European platform? Aside from appealing to a particular section of the electorate, associating Obama with Europe links the incumbent President with the current malaise in Europe, which only serves Romney in his race to presidency. It emphasises the stereotypical notion that Americans have about Europe, that they have no defence capabilities, are freeloaders and live on welfare benefits. At the Florida Primary, Romney said that Obama would “like to make us more like a European social welfare state. Europe is not working in Europe. The last thing we need is for America to become more like Europe.” Therefore not only is Romney emphasising the dysfunctional nature of European social democracies - thereby disavowing "socialism" - but he is also linking President Obama to these failures.
The EU in the Republican electoral debate is therefore characterised by two main trends: on the one hand there is a general lack of interest for European issues, and on the other hand, it is used by Romney as a platform from which to run against President Obama. Romney is not so much running against Europe unlike many of his speeches may suggest, but against an American vision of Europe that Obama, the anticipated nominee of the Democratic primaries, embodies. Opposing old, weak and inspiration-less socialist Europe to the “free and prosperous land of opportunity” - to the American dream - seems to be bearing its fruits however, as Romney is in the lead to win the Republican primaries.
To go further
On Nouvelle Europe's website
Dossier March 2012 : 2012 : année électorale
On the internet
Mitt Romney: 'European socialist policies not right for US', video made available by the Telegraph, 23 Sept. 2011
Mitt Romney blasts Obama and Europe in NH primary victory speech, Globalpost, 11 January 2012
Romney and his European straw dog, by Edward Goldberg, The Huffington Post, 1 December 2012
Romney runs against...Europe? by Andy Reinhardt, Bloomberg Businessweek, 12 January 2012
Original source of the photo: US and EU flags, Flickr