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November 02, 2010

EU Sends Mixed-Reacts To US Midterm Elections

by Lisa Bryant

The European Union offered a fractured reaction to the Republican victory in the midterm elections. Europeans are watching closely to see what - if any difference - the results will make in transatlantic relations.

Few regions cheered Barack Obama's electoral victory two years ago more loudly than in Europe. After US-European relations chilled under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush, generally left-leaning Europe hoped for closer transatlantic ties.

Europeans are less certain today, however, after Republican candidates swept to victory in the US House of Representatives and captured new governorships and key state seats.

Marco Incerti of the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies says many Europeans also don't understand why the American counterparts appeared to rebuke Mr. Obama's policies by voting for the rival Republican parties. He says Europeans are looking particularly at President Obama's accomplishments during his tenure to date, including passing health care reform in the United States.

"I think there is a bit of perplexity on the European side if only because, certainly by European standards, the Obama administration has delivered quite a lot and so that in that respect seeing that people consider he has not done enough, from our point of view, is quite interesting," he said.

Philippe Moreau Defarges, an analyst at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris says that today, Europeans are also disappointed in Mr. Obama after their enthusiastic response to his presidency. But Mr. Obama's presidency has failed to deliver on some issues Europeans hold dear - like tough climate change legislation and a binding global treaty to cut greenhouse gasses.

"There was a disappointment mostly about foreign policy," he said. "Many Europeans thought Barack Obama would change the US foreign policy and Barack Obama has in fact not changed US foreign policy, especially in Afghanistan."

But Europeans are also looking warily at the new Republican politicians voted into power. Some view the conservative grassroots Tea Party movement particularly skeptically - or with derision.

But others like Thierry Mariani, a deputy from France's ruling conservative UMP party, Union for a Popular Movement, have found the Tea Party inspiring. Mariani visited the US state of Colorado during the midterm campaigning.

Speaking to French radio, Mariani said French lawmakers should listen to the Tea Party's message - and pay more attention to citizens' concerns in their own country.

Some analysts draw parallels between the Tea Party movement and the recent rise of far-right parties in European countries like Sweden and the Netherlands. But Incerti of the European policy center believes the European far right is ultimately very different.

"They tend to be much more nationalistic," said Incerti. "They tend to, no matter how badly defined, have a government program, certain policies they want to push. In a sense it's a more structured, more top-down approach compared to the Tea Party movement."

It may be too early to say what tangible difference the Republican victory will make to transatlantic relations. Some analysts fear it may affect issues like arms control and relations with Russia and Turkey.

French analyst Moreau Defarges says many European politicians are watching US events with a certain amount of anxiety. Brussels-based analyst Incerti is not sure the Republican victory will make much impact on European-US relations.

European heads of state will be able to test the fallout later this month, when they meet with Obama at a summit in Lisbon.