The “Sleeping Giant” overshadowing the EU elections: European Security with Trump? 

29 May 2024 /

5 min

Since the last Trump Presidency, the world has dramatically changed.

While the spotlight in Europe is currently on the European Parliament Elections in June, we should not forget that also the USA is in the midst of its maybe most brutal and dirty election campaign for President of the United States so far. Both candidates for this year’s elections are no strangers to each other nor the world: But will President Joe Biden manage to defeat former President Donald Trump another time in November 2024? The stakes of this election for Europe and the free and liberal world could not be higher. 

Even though for Europe, the current projections for the European Parliament Elections predict a gain for the far-right, a majority for the centrist forces within the European Parliament seems still likely. So far, no radical paradigm shift in the EU’s policy approach for the next 5 years is expected. In the USA, to the contrary, a defeat of President Biden and the return of Donald Trump could lead to another four years of tumultuous and unpredictable US leadership decline. Maybe even shaking the foundations of the transatlantic EU-US partnership for good.   

To understand the potential implications of the outcome of this year’s US Presidential Election, we need to look back. In a surprise victory, Donald Trump won the election in 2016 as a far-right outsider on the Republican ticket, unexpectedly beating political heavyweight and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Then, from 2016 until the end of his term in 2021, his administration was punctured by scandals. These included campaign associates accused of collaborating with Russian intelligence for election interference, as well as two impeachment procedures by the House of Representatives: one for abuse of power when pressuring Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden in 2020, and another regarding insurrection charges in 2021 following the storming of Capitol Hill on January 6. And even until today, Trump refuses to acknowledge his election loss in 2020 and keeps attacking the free press and journalists. 

While his domestic policy and obvious disregard for key democratic principles such as press freedom, rule of law and pluralism were already concerning enough for the EU leadership, his administration’s foreign policy has reinforced worries from European partners on various occasions. This includes Trump’s obvious dislike for the European Integration project as well as his constant questioning of NATO’s mutual assistance clause, labelling Europe as a financial burden of the USA. On top of that, he cultivated very unconventional close relationships with authoritarian leaders. During his first term, Trump was raving about Kim Jong Un’s ‘love letters’, siding with Putin instead of his own intelligence service over proven claims of Russian election interference while referring to Chinese long-term dictator Xi Jinping as a ‘brilliant guy’. At the same time, he blew up a G7 Summit of democratic leaders in 2018 with a tweet, calling Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau weak and dishonest.

Eventually in 2020, he was defeated by Barack Obama’s former Vice-President and long-term senator of Delaware, Joe Biden, who since then serves as 46th President of the USA.

Back in 2024 and four years later, so far, President Biden has achieved a set of significant legislative wins and managed to bring back the USA as a credible leader for the West. Still, he faces discontent when it comes to taming inflation, reducing the influx of migrants to the southern border states, and justifying unpopular foreign financial military aid, which is being exploited by once-again Republican Party Presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and his far right-wing and isolationist disciples. In addition, President Biden’s old age (though Trump is only four years younger) is a matter of concern, resulting in approval ratings plummeting around the low 40 percent.

Setting aside the impacts of a second Trump presidency on US domestic policy, with plans swirling around by Trump aides to centralise executive powers and increase control of the judiciary, the consequences for Europe’s security could be severe. 

Since the last Trump Presidency, the world has dramatically changed. War has come back to Europe, with Russia illegally invading Ukraine in February 2022. While President Biden has been at the forefront of supplying Ukraine with essential financial and military aid, Trump holds a highly ambivalent position towards supporting Ukraine, bragging about being able to close a peace deal in 24 hours, without elaborating on the consequences for Ukraine’s occupied territory. Even more, Trump recently questioned US military support for NATO members behind on dues if attacked by Russia, a stance harshly condemned by the Biden administration, NATO and international allies. Meanwhile, China has become power-conscious on the world stage, siding with Russia and other authoritarian forces in openly contesting the liberal rules-based international order while flexing its military muscles in the South Pacific region, as recently shown by the Chinese military drills simulating the encircling of Taiwan. While President Biden pursues to rally liberal democracies worldwide against the surge of authoritarian powers, the prospect of another four years of Donald Trump’s isolationist foreign policy agenda could lead to a global leadership void, paving the way for China and its allies to fill the gap. Then Europe, for now, is too divided and defenceless to counter China and Russia by themselves. It needs the support and partnership of its most important and powerful ally, the USA.

That’s why the outcome of this year’s US Presidential Election comes with high importance for the future of European security and the liberal international order. With current polls predicting a head-to-head race between the two main contenders, their opposing foreign policy visions could not be more different and consequential for Europe and the world. 

Nevertheless, once public attention shifts from the European to the US elections after June, the EU must critically ask itself why it has not been able to further progress in forging its European defence readiness since the first Trump Presidency in 2016, and why it is again in this situation, hoping to get out with just a scratch. 

In other words: Europe must finally grow up when it comes to investing in and ensuring its security in a world of crises and unpredictability, even among our key allies. 

Felix Fend is a Master Student in European Studies and Social Media Manager of Eyes on Europe

(Edited by Luka Krauss)

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