How will the results of elections affect the EU-US relations?

By Delphine Roulland | 6 November 2012

To quote this document: Delphine Roulland, “How will the results of elections affect the EU-US relations?”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Tuesday 6 November 2012,, displayed on 30 January 2023

2012, the year of change. The French and Greek elections – both held in May – greatly affected the US economy and its prospects of recovery. The 2012 US presidential elections will most certainly do the same to Europe. Friends and foes, the US and the European Union have gone through all kinds of relationships. After 6 November, what will it become? 


A long-lasting relationship between two great powers

The diplomatic relationship between the US and the EU dates back to 1953. The US offer to the European Commission to be represented in Washington, in 1954, was the first step in the development of their transatlantic relations.  

36 years later, their relationship was formalised through the Transatlantic Declaration. From then on, the US and the EU would hold regular presidential summits, and would act as close international partners in dealing with foreign and security policy, such as the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or terrorism.

Aiming at promoting peace and stability, democracy and development throughout the world, and meeting international challenges together, they set up the New Transatlantic Agenda in 1995. Since then, the two powers faced together various international conflicts; the 2003 war in Iraq being the highlight of their close partnership.

However, with the US and the EU economies ‘account[ing] together for about half the entire world GDP’ – according to the European Commission - the two powers also felt the need to extend their co-operation to fields of trade and investment, through the 1998 Transatlantic Economic Partnership, and later the 2005 European Union and United States Initiative to Enhance Transatlantic Economic Integration and Growth.

Could Europe have sealed the fate of the United States?

No need to insist on the fact that both powers have always economically influenced one another, and even more in the past four years. In fact, less than 9 months before the May elections in France and Greece, American journalists pondered on the possibility that ‘Europe could decide the 2012 [US] elections’. The European handling of the debt crisis on the continent could either ‘shatter an already fragile global economy’ or help consolidating the US economy.

What happened in Europe obviously influenced the US presidential elections. Indeed, the context of economic instability forced candidates for national elections in the EU to set their priorities on economic issues; and so did it to the two American candidates to the presidential elections – Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

As much as foreign policy and international policies were at the heart of the 2008 elections, the 2012 presidential elections are mostly about domestic issues.

The $ 15.6 trillion of debt, the $980 billion of budget deficit, and the 7.8% of unemployment rate are all incentives strong enough for electors to worry mostly about the recovering economy.

The paradoxical absence of the EU in the US electoral debate….

White House candidates need to win over undecided voters and convince their electors they are up to the task of being the 45th president of the United States.

That basically means tackling the issues that matter most to the US electorate; and Europe is not one of them. As a proof, in the third debate on foreign policy between the incumbent president and his opponent, Europe was only mentioned once.

Hence the question that all Europeans should ask themselves: though the EU welcomes the fact that they are in an intense governmental dialogue with the US, is the feeling returned?

If Europe is in the US backyard, then what is the US looking at? Some say that Asia should become the new pivot. And major policies should remain consistent: a multilateral approach on Iran, the drawdown in Afghanistan, a complex relationship with China, and a quick look at Latin America, from time to time.

The economic drawback certainly threatens the national security, only because the next US president will need to reallocate spending and perhaps cut on defence and military expenditure. This would have obvious international consequences, such as ‘compromis[ing] its ability to maintain its international military supremacy or standing in the world as it loses its capacity to maintain both hard (military) and soft (economic) hegemony’.

…does not account for a weaker transatlantic relation

Perhaps the absence of the EU in the US political debate on foreign policy is good news for the European Union. Indeed, as Gabriel Borrud suggests, candidates only focused on crisis points such as Iran, the Middle East or China.

Furthermore, not being mentioned does not mean cutting ties with one another. With regards to the Middle East crisis or Iran, the European Union and the United States can certainly make their agendas meet. The economic plight in which the US currently is, means that it will need to rely more on its partners. The EU will thus come of great help to the US- which asked it to become more involved and dedicate more budgets to international issues - and even influence its foreign policy.

Nevertheless, what could be the strongest partnership in the history of US-EU relations requires both powers to compromise: the US on its protectionist behaviour, if Obama gets re-elected; the EU on austerity measures, that it keeps implementing despite Obama’s pleas to limit them. Those are instances of major changes EU policy makers see in the near future of the transatlantic relations.


Most specialists on the question agree that whoever wins the upcoming presidential elections will bring minimal changes to the current foreign policy towards Europe. As Marco Vincenzino asserts, the ‘continuity that prevailed from Presidents Bush to Obama would likely apply to a Romney presidency’.  

Despite the fact that Europe is barely mentioned either in the two candidates’ programs or in the electoral debate, chances are that Europe will still be of great importance to the future president of the United States, or so do EU policy makers think: on 25 October 2012, Ian Lesser, head of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund confided in Euractiv:

 ‘I have a feeling that both candidates will want to put a bit of distance between themselves and the situation in Europe at the moment. It doesn’t make it any less important in terms of policy but I think in terms of the debate over the next weeks we’re not likely to see very much discussion about Europe.’

To go further

On Nouvelle Europe

On the internet

To read

  • Schulz D., Europe and the 2012 American elections, April 2012

To watch


Photo source: "Benefits and Risks of Transatlantic Policy Flows”, on Public Policy blog, updated on 6 April 2011