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Europe’s Divided Expectations on US Election

  • Luis Ramirez

FILE - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, right, French President Francois Hollande, left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stand on the deck of an Italian aircraft carrier off the coast of Italy, Aug. 22, 2016. The leaders of Italy, France and Germany are watching the U.S. election closely.

FILE - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, right, French President Francois Hollande, left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stand on the deck of an Italian aircraft carrier off the coast of Italy, Aug. 22, 2016. The leaders of Italy, France and Germany are watching the U.S. election closely.

Polls suggest that if European nations were voting in the U.S. election, Hillary Clinton would win in a landslide. Governments across the region are paying close attention and assessing how they will work with the next administration, including one that would be led by Donald Trump.

The Republican candidate has found sympathy among a significant segment of Europe’s population, both in migrant-wary Eastern Europe and in Western Europe, where anti-immigrant, anti-EU advocates in Germany, France and Britain are hoping a Trump victory will bolster their causes.

Establishment for Clinton

But it is the concerns about the new American leadership’s willingness to remain engaged with Europe that is tipping the scales in favor of Clinton, in the eyes of the European establishment.

“I admire her strategic thinking and her strong commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag earlier this year.

Merkel’s opinion reflects that of many Europeans who see Clinton as sharing priorities that are trademarks of European classical liberalism: a commitment to free trade, a strong NATO, state-funded health care, and opposition to Brexit and other movements that threaten the integrity of the EU and its vision of a region without borders.

“Together, we are facing the challenge to give the name to a new era together,” said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi during an October visit to the White House. “My personal opinion is that the name of future has to be freedom. The name of the future has to be education not intolerance, sustainability not distraction, trust not hate, bridge[s] not walls,” an apparent reference to Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall on the southern U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump has support, too

Trump’s stance on the explosive issues of immigration and jobs brings him few friends among Europe’s leadership, but it endears him to followers of grassroots movements across the continent who see their nations as losing their sovereignty and their livelihood under what some perceive as a European super state.

The same bloc of voters shares Trump’s position against free trade, one of the key areas of concern for European leaders following the failure this year of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

A Trump victory would bolster populists on the continent who are keying into the grievances of those who see themselves as not benefiting from the economic growth that was promised to them from trade liberalization, and who blame immigrants and foreign nations.

“If you are an electorate or a voter, you can say it’s a failure of domestic competition in countries like China. You can say trade liberalization is bad and capitalism is bad,” said Shanker Singham, director of economic policy and prosperity studies at the Legatum Institute in London.

“That’s what you’re seeing in the U.S. and you saw it a little bit with the Brexit vote, part of [the mentality] was just throw these people out because my wage levels are stagnating. We need to just eliminate the people who caused this to happen,’” Singham said.

FILE - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech during the commemoration ceremony of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and freedom fight against communism and Soviet rule in downtown Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 23, 2016. Orban likes the immigration stand of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

FILE - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech during the commemoration ceremony of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and freedom fight against communism and Soviet rule in downtown Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 23, 2016. Orban likes the immigration stand of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Among those in Europe expecting to benefit from a Trump victory is Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party, which opposes continued immigration. Farage has campaigned on behalf of Trump in the U.S. Hillary Clinton, Farage said recently, “is part of a big business establishment. Simply, people want change.”

Trump’s stance on immigration and terrorism also resonates among some like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who sees the Republican contender as better for Europe.

The Hungarian leader, an EU critic who built a razor-wire fence to keep out migrants, has praised the Republican’s anti-terrorism proposals that include a temporary ban on Muslims from entering the U.S. Speaking of Trump’s overall plans to stop terrorism, he said, “I myself could not have drawn up better what Europe needs.”

US election affects Europe

Leaders and analysts see Tuesday as a crucial day that will determine what direction the West will take.

“The liberal order is fragile,” said Dana Allin, a political analyst at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. With Britain voting to leave the European Union, a Trump victory in the United States and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, “the Western order could all of a sudden look very different,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande, a socialist, agrees the American election will change history.

“It could lead to a very strong turn to the right in the world, or to a correction,” Hollande said in August.

The movement of anti-immigrant crusader Le Pen gained strength after last summer’s wave of terrorist attacks in France, and Hollande expects the U.S. vote will directly influence the outcome in his country’s elections next year.

“The American campaign shows issues that will be reflected in the French campaign. If the Americans choose Trump, that will have consequences, because an American election is a world election,” Hollande said.

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