November 4, 2020 Interviews

Picula on US presidential election results

Croatian Member of the European Parliament and EP’s standing rapporteur for relations with the USA Tonino Picula commented on the topicalities of the US presidential elections and their current developments for the N1 network, radio show of the Hrvatski radio “U mreži prvog”, daily newspaper “Vecernji list” and EP’s video conference “New chapter in EU-US relations”

In continuation we bring the most important Picula’s remarks.

In the interview for “U mreži prvog”, when asked about the European Parliament’s attitude on the electoral advancements, Picula declared:

First of all it must be said that the European politicians, same as the media thus far have been very careful regarding this election. The suspense is substantial and they are trying to avoid mistakes made in the previous years, however, even in the case of Biden’s victory, the EU is reigned by certain conscientious optimism because the question on Biden’s comportance with Trump’s burdensome heritage remains unanswered. Nobody is holding any illusions, given that the US has undergone a transformation by 2016 to elect a candidate such as Donald Trump, who has in the meantime instigated changes in the USA making them quite a difficult interlocutor with the EU.

Asked if relations were permanently strained, Picula replied:

With geopolitical interests shifting, the relations between the USA and the US are not like they were and plenty of effort will be needed to regenerate those dialogues in order to produce a different result. Even in the plight of Biden’s victory, the Union will encounter several demands that are part of particular American interest regardless of the Oval Office governor; those are primarily the energy sector, cooperation in the defense sector, and the Americans are demanding EU’s more ample allocations for defense. This is mainly linked to cooperation on environmental protection, and one of the reasons surrounding Biden’s victory is that he openly announces far greater US investment in renewable energy generation, while Europe on the other hand with its Green Deal seeks to achieve energy neutrality by 2050. However, I am certain that Joe Biden would as an American president ask for greater support from European countries in confrontation with China's growing power, or with resisting Putin’s Russia retaliation. Therefore, there are no deceptions, but Biden’s accession is certainly favored to reinstate cooperation, at least partially. All parts of the European Union are not equally enthusiastic about Biden’s potential accession because there are some leading members and country leaders that covet Trump’s victory. It is not secret that members of the Visegrad Group, for example Hungary and Poland opt for Trump, and even the Hungarian minister of foreign affairs has recently declared inclination to Trump, mostly because of Trump’s manner that has frequently lauded, if not privileged, those politicians that deviate from traditional liberal values, while treating his former allies like no American president before.

When it comes to the US relationship with Croatia and the Western Balkans, Picula believes:

The meeting between President Trump, Serbian President Vucic and prime minister Hoti organized at the White House a month ago was mostly intended to demonstrate Trump’s ability of solving numerous chronic problems across the planet. Trump has, naturally, during his rallies brought forward his version of foreign policy success, which means that it took him half an hour to solve the conflict between two nations flaring forty years. This speaks volumes about the light in which this meeting was set. The bizarre thing is that in the documents signed on that occasion, the EU is not mentioned anywhere, which would be very difficult to imagine if such a gathering took place in the company of any other American president who has always supported the EU, and after all, it suited the Americans as well because it guaranteed stability on the Old Continent. I think that with Biden America would have a president who is better acquainted with the situation in the Southeast Europe, considering that he has been there in a delicate moment in Bosnia and Herzegovina, met the people who were vitiated by war events, he also met Serbian leaders and suggested to American authorities a radical turn in the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, which was not accepted in 1993, but two years later and it is certain that Biden would pursue a policy towards the European Union as a whole, but also towards this area, which would be primarily informed about events. With Donald Trump, we will have a lot of similar moves in the next four years as they did in the White House Oval Office, but whether and how this will contribute to the development of relations with Southeast Europe remains to be seen.

During the European Parliaments video conference New chapter in the EU-US relations, Picula elaborated:

I would say that at this point it may be even more priority to discuss future intra-American political relations, not just transatlantic relations which are of course a very important topic, but certainly the American choice will greatly affect the relationship between the European Union and the US. I believe that the European politicians and media are being careful around this elections, great uncertainty holds sway while trying to avoid mistakes with premature compliments as has happened previous years and it is precisely in this context that the Juncker’s porcelain bowl metaphor displays how fragile that relations are. Of course, the vast majority of European politicians would be pleased or at least relieved in the event of the election of Joe Biden. The assumption is that Biden as a president would treat the EU members and the EU as a whole, in addition to NATO, as partners and collaborators. Certainly, one should be moderately optimistic when speaking about Biden, because, if he wins, he will have to prioritize resolving Trump’s and his administration's burdensome heritage, and his agenda will primarily be domestic, fighting the pandemic and better management to prevent further spread of the contagion. The priorities of democratic voters also testify to that fact, highlighting above all health, environment and economy. Biden will have to deal with foreign affairs and I am sure that he, together with his European partners, will handle that in a much more acceptable manner and that he will deliver certain requirements needed for a successful cooperation. But it is impossible to oversee that some in the Union, especially in the Visegrad Group, prefer a different outcome of the American election and openly covet for Trump because in these past 4 years he has shown a great deal of understanding for those stepping out of the scope of liberal democracy and the integral set of values embedded in the EU, particularly respecting human rights, separation of the judiciary from the politics, and less for trying to have good relations with European politicians and political establishment. But mostly, in the Union prevails a certain form of mature expectation that under Biden those relations can and must be better.

If the EU were a common state and had a electoral system, it would be perfectly clear that Joe Biden would win and supersede an imaginary scale of 270 electoral votes, but he would not win by the absolute majority because some countries would still vote for Trump. The last example is Poland where 51% of polled voters declared in Trump’s favour. Looking at the majority, of course, the European Union would also like a renewed alliance with the United States because of its internal problems. Over the past 70 years, Europe in its various forms and evolutionary stages, has also used the United States as a medium that has had a very strong influence on the global development of opportunities. But that time is behind us and we will obviously need to look for some renewed foundations for that kind of partnership.

To me it seems that the results so far and the uncertainty indicate that Trump’s victory in 2016 was anything but incidental, therefore, not a once-off. I think America has really changed enough in the past 20 years, maybe even more, for a huge number of American voters to choose a man like Donald Trump, I would say not just a politician, but a distinctive person as a president of the United States. And now Donald Trump has changed the USA over the past 4 yours, along with relations of the USA with the entire world. To that extent, his legacy will burden Biden if he comes to that position and it will not be at all easy to arrange the new composition of the relations. It is clear that Trump has imposed the crisis, or to better say, crises as a style of governance. He brings absolutely everything into crisis and the important question is whether the non-transatlantic relations and American institution can survive Donald Trump’s second term in the first place.

The European Union has already created a kind of immune shield towards actions of Donald Trump’s administration over the past 4 years, because it has systematically abandoned principles of multilateral cooperation, a whole series of multilateral agreements and organizations. I would just like to remind about something that is not mentioned so much anymore, and that is the fact Donald Trump ordered to State Department to lower the European Union Permanent Representation in Washington at the diplomatic level, so for a while European Diplomats did not receive the same treatment as their colleagues who were unilateral representatives of their own countries. Thus, he used every opportunity to display what he really thinks of the European Union and that kind of radical unilateralism has led him into isolation from many traditional American allies. However, if Trump does win, it does not have to necessarily mean that the EU will find itself in a situation where it will not be able to function, on the contrary, based on the experience so far with Trump's administration, the Union will have to turn to itself even faster. It is important to take into consideration United Kingdom that is formally leaving the Union, which will be an important signal to the Union that it must consolidate with itself because if it wants to survive as a political project as a sui generis multilateral community, it will have to find some new forms of superstructure. The Union simply does not have such resilience to external shocks, as the great financial crisis that spilled over from America to the Union in 2008, or to the refugee crisis that occured in 2015 and the consequences of which are still experiencing today.

The dissipated and stagnant relations between the EU and the USA are not caused by the Union, but the interested and expressions of the American president and the political will of a losing class in the USA, which were brought into question when the globalization stopped working in American favor, and shifted to others who are now American rivals. I would like to say that, when speaking about relations between the EU and the USA, the latter being an extremely important catalyst for European unification after the Second World War. Of course, the picture today is completely different. We will have to be very considerate to Americans as our partners, as to a country that is maintaining its dominance, and regardless of the problems that are emerging from rival policies, the European Union must not give up on cooperation with the United States, but it also must not give up the fight for a world in which mutual problems are solved amicably, and not by the slogan “America First”, because it would not be satisfactory for a project that above all reclines on consensus, common values and respect of interests.

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