In the wake of one of the most acrimonious and divisive presidential campaigns in modern American history, Carnegie Europe hosted a media call with Thomas Carothers, Judy Dempsey, and Pierre Vimont to discuss the outcome of the U.S. election and its impact on Europe.
Speakers addressed the implications of the result for the transatlantic relationship, European foreign policy, and the rise of populism in the West.
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TOM CARVER: Good morning, everyone. My name's Tom Carver, I'm vicepresident here at Carnegie Endowment in Washington and this is a media call on the American election and the victory for Donald Trump and the implications for Europe. It is on the record and there will be at some stage soon afterwards hopefully a transcript of it for anyone that wants extract quotes and so forth.
I would just ask when you have a question, if you could please state your name and affiliation so that people know who's calling in, and also that when you're not speaking please mute your line because it can be very distracting on these kind of conference calls for other listeners.
So I'm pleased to have with me on the call Judy Dempsey, who's the editor of Strategic Europe, our successful blog, in our Brussels centre; Pierre Vimont, our senior associate in Carnegie Europe in Brussels as well, and Tom Carothers, our senior vicepresident for studies here in Washington DC so we've got a good team and maybe we could go round each of you in turn and just ask for your initial thoughts on what this might mean for Europe, maybe starting with you, Tom.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: Well, I think—good morning and good afternoon—I think everyone in Washington is caught between two different views of what the coming months and years might portend. One is the view that Donald Trump now in power will be a much milder version of the campaign Donald Trump, that he'll move to the centre and try to be liked by everyone and will tone down going from statements to actions.
The other view is, no, no, what you saw is what you're going to get, he'll be erratic, he'll be driven to dramatic actions and so forth. So we're watching very closely for signs of both but it's too early to tell. Related to that is also a choice between, is this going to be an ongoing war between Donald Trump and his own party or instead are they going to share the spoils of victory here and divide up the issues that they most care about and move together.
My own view on those two choices is I think we are going to see a Donald Trump somewhat more constrained but he will choose a couple of areas at least to do some symbolic actions that will feed his constituent base and stand for what he stood for in the campaign but I think they're less likely to be on the issues Europe cares most about and more likely on certain domestic issues.
And then I think also with respect to the question of relation to the party, I think it's going to be more the latter; I think they're going to share the spoils, I think they're going to find a way to work together and divide up the issues they care most about.
With respect to Europe, one thing to watch for in particular is Syria of course and the relationship with Russia, and whether or not there might be an implicit or explicit deal between Russia... which effectively is: okay, you can have Assad in control of the country but we really need to go after Islamic State in a bigger way, I said in the campaign I was going to do something and I want to do something but let's make a deal here, let's work on Islamic State together and I don't really care about the fate of Assad.
TOM CARVER: Yes, okay, great, thanks, Tom. Judy, thoughts from your end in Berlin.
JUDY DEMPSEY: Yes, good afternoon, everybody, thanks for joining in; Judy Dempsey here. Briefly, huge concern and huge uncertainty. This is the first time now that the European allies of NATO are confronted with the stark reality and possibility that the commitment by the Americans to Europe is actually going to get weaker under Trump.
I think of course it depends on who the Defence Secretary will be and the State Secretary but Trump's going to pile the pressure on NATO. He's promised it at home and I think he's going to promise them when there'll be a foreign ministers' meeting in December and it'll be interesting to see who he sends.
The second thing is that the Europeans are muddling through; they're muddling through the Brexit crisis and all of a sudden they say yesterday, especially head of the liberal group in the European Parliament, that, oh, this is a wake-up call. One wonders how many wake-up calls the Europeans actually need to do something but there are now lots of calls by Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the Commission, supported by Ursula von der Leyen, the Defence Minister; we need some kind of European defence union.
This European defence union is not going to come overnight. It's out there but as long as the Europeans don't come to terms with hard power they will have to have a dialogue as quickly as possible with the new administration and find out exactly how firm the security guarantees are and above all how firm is America's commitment to NATO. It's just very fragile at the moment and the Europeans are very, very worried.
TOM CARVER: Pierre in Paris, what's your perspective?
PIERRE VIMONT: Hello, good afternoon from Paris. I think, just like Judy was saying, it's very much a feeling of uncertainty at the moment because we sense that the Trump administration could be more of a transactional administration rather than a transforming one and therefore this may have a lot of consequences on many of the challenges we're facing and that on some issues there could be really a major change with the kind of mainstream foreign policy we have been witnessing so far so I think that's the first thing.
With regard to Europe, of course, just as Judy was saying, we sense that in a situation where Europe is rather weak because of the Brexit issue we are suddenly faced with a few challenges that we will have to deal with very, very quickly. How will the Trump administration act with regard to Syria or with regard to the Iranian deal, as it was said? And I think more than anything else for the Europeans it's what will be the kind of relationship with Russia that the new US administration will try to set up on all the main issues we are facing at the moment; those I mentioned a few seconds ago but also Ukraine.
Secondly with trade negotiation and the TTIP negotiation; and thirdly with the fighting and acting against terrorism and maybe to that you could relate also with migration. So these are the main issues on which the Europeans need to work together and of course we're going to be facing the usual pattern where Europeans will say that they want to act together in a united way but at the same time each one of them will try to work on the bilateral track also so it will be about finding the right coherence between these two approaches.
TOM CARVER: Great, thank you, Pierre. Okay, let's open it up to questions. Is there anyone on the line that wants to ask any of Pierre or Tom or Judy?
ANNA WIDZYK: Hey, everybody.
TOM CARVER: Hi, who's this, can you state your name? Hello?
JUDY DEMPSEY: Pierre, can I come in briefly to pick up on something you said, if some to the journalists are just trying to get their papers together? I think there's a very interesting residual fear in Ukraine and the Baltic states and perhaps in Poland that there will be a US-Russian reset button and that the issues of Syria, Iran, Ukraine and NATO will be seen through the prism of Russia, not through looking at the individual interests and concerns of the Baltic states, Georgia particularly—that's going to be very interesting—and Ukraine.
So in our eastern part of Europe there's big concern and suspicion actually that Trump will reach out to Putin and then try to not divide and rule but Ukraine and other countries will go back on the back burner.
PIERRE VIMONT: Yes, I agree with you but the whole question is whether in today's global world where many, many different actors appear on the international scene, is it all that easy to have the Americans and the Russians acting together and imposing any kind of agreements, be it on Syria, on Yemen, on elsewhere.
JUDY DEMPSEY: Indeed.
PIERRE VIMONT: Certainly in the Middle East the number of actors who also have a stake in this make it rather difficult to imagine that this is going to be all that easy, even with a change in Washington. That's the impression one can get.
With Ukraine it may be a bit different but here again Europeans and the member states within the European Union may find it sometimes difficult to accept this kind of ruling by Russia and America. So I think here also you may be facing more uncertainty than maybe one can expect when we're thinking about all this.
TOM CARVER: Let's see if there're other questions on the line from anyone.
ANNA WIDZYK: Hi, hello.
TOM CARVER: Hello.
ANNA WIDZYK: Hi, I'm Anna Widzyk, Polish Press Agency. I have two questions actually. One maybe to all the three experts on NATO; do you believe that the Warsaw Summit commitments of the USA will be implemented? The US should send one battalion to Poland and additionally one brigade to Poland. So what do you think, will it be implemented in the end?
And one question maybe to Mr Vimont on sanctions on Russia. The European Union is set to decide probably in December whether to prolong economic sanctions towards Russia. Will this discussion in the EU be influenced by the situation in the US now? Thank you.
TOM CARVER: Okay, Judy, do you want to do the NATO one and then we can go to Pierre?
JUDY DEMPSEY: Yes, I'll be very brief. Anna, thank you very much. We don't know; that's the short answer; depends on the Defence Secretary but also inside NATO it's quite cohesive at the moment and there seems to be a political will to live up to the commitments of the Warsaw Summit. That's my impression so far from speaking to a lot of NATO officials this morning.
The second thing is if Poland can turn round and say to the administration in Washington, look, we've met our 2% of GDP commitments, we're on board, we're helping to secure Europe and be a loyal ally, that might play a role. But it all depends on what kind of quid pro quos or what kind of relationship the administration would set up with Russia.
TOM CARVER: Pierre?
PIERRE VIMONT: Yes, thank you. On the second question on economic sanctions, I think there are two considerations that have to be taken into account and which in my opinion make it rather farcical that sanctions will go ahead. The first one is the timing; as you said, the decision is in December so we still have to deal with the outgoing Obama administration and there is a strong feeling among the 28 member states that for the time being they'd better move on with prolonging the sanctions as they stand.
And the second reason why I think they would go ahead is that as they're still facing this uncertainty about what the new Trump administration will want to do on that issue, status quo and an attitude of wait-and-see may be the right attitude and the right positioning for the time being so I don't think there will be much change in what is already seen as something that will roll over without too much difficulty at this stage.
TOM CARVER: Tom, do you get any sense from here that all this talk about the relationship between Putin and Trump will translate into any sort of action when it actually comes to the relationship?
THOMAS CAROTHERS: Well, it's a long way between the initial statements that he made in the campaign and really building a relationship and if Donald Trump thinks he's transactional, wait until he sits down with Vladimir Putin. This is a leader who is a master of the diplomatic transaction, both of dividing people whom he tries to deal with and then trying to squeeze out the best possible set of arrangements for Russia. So he will meet his—not necessarily his match but he will certainly meet a master of tactics and transactions.
Three signals to watch for from Trump on foreign policy that are of relevance to Europe and are in the realm of symbolic—both symbolic and real but things that Trump could do very early on. One is backing away from any pressure on the Israeli Government on settlements and making clear that he's not going to go down the route that Obama did in giving Netanyahu, in a sense, a free hand there.
Secondly on the Iran deal, making clear whether he's serious about trying to take apart or back away from the Iran deal, which he has said very forcefully so if he doesn't that's going to be a bit of a step-down on his part so I think we could see something there.
And then third on TTIP, he may just make a blanket statement about trade deals, that everything's off the table until he decides to put it back on the table. So those are three areas that Europe can watch for that are, in a sense, actions that are fairly easy from his point of view to make a bold statement about now that he's president elect and I would watch carefully on those.
TOM CARVER: Okay, great. Other questions? Any others? One question I have for any of you is about Brexit. Clearly he talked a lot about Brexit in the campaign, he called himself—a victory would be a Trexit; he met Nigel Farage on the campaign trail. Does anyone see that translate into an interference in the Brexit process from the new American administration?
JUDY DEMPSEY: Can I turn it round the other way, Tom? It's the impact of Trump's victory on populist and Euroskeptic movements across Europe so this is now going to cause a huge amount of unease amongst the status quo. We've got the referendum in Italy, we've got the Dutch elections and we've got the German elections, presidential elections and don't forget Austria and also France. Do you think any EU leader's going to do anything now to try to respond to the Trump victory? Populists will make hay and I'm not sure EU leaders are willing to actually take risks and go on the offensive as the election cycle kicks in. This is a great pity because we're going to give the ground then to this wave of populism that's running through Europe.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: Of particular importance on that is the Syrian refugee issue. The United States of course, as we know, takes only really a token or a symbolic number of Syrian refugees but even that came up again and again in the campaign and I think it's very likely that either Donald Trump or the American Congress will say something to the effect of, we are closing the door on Syrian refugees, we're just not going to do that.
The signal that sends to Europe, if the United States is taking fewer Syrian refugees than practically Portugal or Spain or something—what signal does that send to European governments who're trying to work out an arrangement on sharing the migration within Europe—migration and refugees.
TOM CARVER: Other questions?
SUZANNE LYNCH: Hello, it's Suzanne Lynch here from the Irish Times.
TOM CARVER: Hi, Suzanne.
JUDY DEMPSEY: Hi, Suzanne.
SUZANNE LYNCH: Hello, hi. I'll just go back to Russia again for a minute. Do any of the experts there feel that the Trump victory and potential rapprochement with Putin might embolden the members of the European Union who are that bit more sympathetic to Russia? Is this at a very delicate time [unclear] those internal divisions about the Russians?
TOM CARVER: Judy, do you want to answer?
JUDY DEMPSEY: Yes, that question is always out there—thank you for your question. Will it embolden them? It's very hard to say. I think more importantly the populist movements will feel they're on a rise, there's this momentum, the anti-globalisation, anti-trade-agreement; it's on a rise and the elites are not in a position to stop this, nor are the elites in a position to actually deal with the other side of globalisation. And Putin can tap into this any time and we have to watch out how he's going to actually interfere—and I've mentioned the word interfere—in the German elections next year because this is what he's been doing with the disinformation campaign.
But Putin must be quite pleased the way things are going at the moment. He has actually very little to do but just sit back at the moment and continue his disinformation campaign.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: If I could just add on that, I think it's not just the potential between the mainstream parties and populists but it's also, as you know, within the coalition and Europe on Russian sanctions there're some countries that are more inclined to start softening the sanctions and if Trump makes any kind of a signal early on either in a meeting with Putin or outside of a meeting with Putin to the extent that maybe it's time to rethink these sanctions that will certainly contribute to the fragmentation of the European approach so I think that's another trigger to watch for in the next six months.
TOM CARVER: Pierre, do you want to add anything?
PIERRE VIMONT: Yes, just to add, I totally agree with what's just been said about Russia but I think at least looking at it from where I stand here in France, the main issue at the moment is less about foreign policy or only about the implication of foreign policy on domestic politics because this is really what is the main reason why people are looking at all this with surprise and of course with a clear need to reassess the situation and the way they have been trying to deal with the economic policy up to now, the whole issue of how to bring back economic growth, etc.
When you have, as in France, presidential elections looming on the horizon—and you can say the same thing about the Netherlands and also of course Germany—this is really what people are looking at the moment as the main priority. Russia certainly is there also with all the foreign policy but I think the main reasons why people and politicians and political leaders are reassessing the situation is looking how mainstream political parties can now find the right answer to this wave of anger from the middle classes and frustration that is now clearly appearing after the Brexit vote and the vote in favour of Trump.
TOM CARVER: Pierre, Marine Le Pen was one of the first—or the first, I think, politician to congratulate Trump. Do you think that there's any chance that this will translate into an increase in her popularity in France?
PIERRE VIMONT: We will have to see of course but up until now there was this feeling that there was a sort of glass ceiling preventing the National Front, Marine Le Pen's political party, from winning in the second round because we have two rounds in our election. She usually performs very well in the first round but doesn't succeed in the second round.
Now everybody is going to look very closely to that and the only opinion poll we've seen so far in France was asking people, whom do you think the Trump vote will benefit? So far the answer has been precisely Marine Le Pen but there haven't been any more opinion polls so far on how votes will be cast, the kind of opinion polls we see usually so we still have to wait for this a little bit more.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: If I could just say one thing on that, Tom, I've studied political contagion effects across borders, within regions such as within the Arab Spring and central and eastern Europe in 1989 and so forth. What really happens across borders is a change in the sense of possibility. It's not necessarily a very specific change, it's rather a change in the mindset in which the impossible suddenly becomes possible and so in a sense the ceiling over Marine Le Pen in France has been, we just can't imagine France going there. Well, we certainly did not imagine the United States going where it's gone at all, or for example Great Britain. So once the range of possibility changes that's the kind of influence that's most significant.
TOM CARVER: Thank you. We all know how reliable opinion polls are! Other questions, anyone else on the line want to ask a question?
THOMAS CAROTHERS: Can I say one more thing Tom? There's a view from Washington; another thing that's going on very intensely in these first two days is the Republican Party establishment on the foreign policy side, the professionals within the Republican establishment who traditionally served in Republican administrations has divorced itself very significantly from Trump during the campaign, to the point of signing statements saying they would never work for a Trump administration or to that effect.
Now there's a big debate going on quietly, a bit of a push-and-pull on should they walk back from those commitments and is it in a sense for the greater good that Trump's going to need a lot of people—there are 4,000 political jobs within Washington, although only a part of those in foreign policy, should they walk back from those stated commitments and approach the trump campaign and say, we're ready and able?
The Trump campaign has not signalled that it's especially interested in those people and Donald Trump has been known to hold a grudge and so we're not really sure yet but we'll see that very much in the first choice of advisors; does he reach strongly and deeply into the Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie circle or does he reach across into the more traditional Republican establishment for at least one or two of his initial cabinet appointments?
TOM CARVER: I'll ask you a bit more about TTIP. Clearly he got into office on an anti-globalisation platform. Is this the end of TTIP, do you think, Pierre?
PIERRE VIMONT: Yes, TTIP was already in rather bad shape with the current American administration and the many governments in Europe on the other side so I'm not so sure it's going to make a huge difference there, at least with regard to TTIP. But it's more about how the Trump administration will behave in general terms with all sorts of free trade agreements, existing ones or the ones that are being negotiated at the moment because of course this will have some impact on the way the Europeans themselves have to look now in the future at the whole issue of free trade.
If the new American administration moves ahead with more protectionism of course this will rebound on all the other trade partners. How will they behave, how will they resist this new trend of protectionism? I think that is going to be the main issue.
JUDY DEMPSEY: Can I jump in here, Tom?
PIERRE VIMONT: Yes, please come in.
JUDY DEMPSEY: Hello?
TOM CARVER: Yes. Hang on, just let Pierre finish that thought.
PIERRE VIMONT: The last point I wanted to say is that of course with regard to trade, the only way to find the right course is to sit all together around a table and try to figure out the kind of policy we want to set forth.
JUDY DEMPSEY: But could I jump in here, Tom?
TOM CARVER: Yes.
JUDY DEMPSEY: Sorry, does anybody want to ask a question?
TOM CARVER: No, go for it, Judy.
ANNA WIDZYK: Yes, Anna Widzyk but not on TTIP so maybe, Judy, if you…
JUDY DEMPSEY: Very briefly on TTIP, if Americans walk away from these trade agreements it actually could provide the Europeans with a chance to build other kind of trade relations with MERCOSUR or with North Africa. There are other options to build new trading partnerships; that's the first thing.
But secondly, fundamentally the Trump victory is about questioning the West and the dominance of the West in terms of its values and in terms of what it believes in and decency and tolerance and I think given this wave of populism in Europe this is terribly, terribly worrying, that the basic values that the West was built on are now being eroded.
TOM CARVER: Okay, great. There was a question, I think.
ANNA WIDZYK: Yes, Anna Widzyk from Polish Press Agency again. Maybe a question to Thomas on what he said about the Republicans. I've heard opinions that Trump is rather narcissistic and he believes he's right in everything. Do you think he will listen to his advisors?
THOMAS CAROTHERS: You were polite in saying rather narcissistic; he's totally narcissistic so I think the question is more, what does he really care about? I think it's going to be more the small circle of issues he genuinely cares about and is not just exerting bluster upon, he will keep close to him but on the rest I think it'll be the opposite; I think he'll simply delegate away issues. He's not a man who does the details, this is a man who does big-picture and he's not a read the briefs carefully, prepare for every meeting, think through all the details.
So instead what we'll see are certain issues he holds very close to him and the rest I suspect he'll delegate very much to his advisors. So the advisors are very important in that sense.
TOM CARVER: Yes, and as you say, Tom, we have no idea who they'll be, whether he'll reach into the traditional establishment or not. Okay, we've got a couple more minutes. Are there any other questions, a chance to ask any of our panel? And final thoughts, Pierre and Judy?
PIERRE VIMONT: No, I think it's going to be very interesting to watch exactly how the Europeans, when they meet together, are going to try to define a sort of common line that they will be able to put to the incoming administration. Foreign Ministers are meeting in the very near future and this is going to be interesting because we have a rather weak Europe at the moment, pretty much divided. Therefore, this is a moment of truth for them; whether they are able to gather their forces and remain united in front of this new challenge they're facing.
JUDY DEMPSEY: Yes, I agree, Pierre and one last point; the fact that so many leaders across Europe gave completely different messages to Trump's victory says that Europe doesn't speak with one voice. Angela Merkel had the strongest speech and the others were, oh, we hope the relationship will continue. Merkel was the only one that spoke about values and liberalism and tolerance as what makes up the West. This is a long haul.
PIERRE VIMONT: Absolutely.
TOM CARVER: But it could, as you say, go either way; it could make the divisions in Europe deeper or it could actually force greater unity into Europe.
JUDY DEMPSEY: There're too many elections in the way to force unity unless there's real leadership and Angela Merkel is one of the undisputed leaders in Europe but she sure has a full plate of issues at the moment.
TOM CARVER: Okay, Tom?
THOMAS CAROTHERS: One other relationship to watch for is that between Erdogan in Turkey and Trump. Just as with Putin, this is a man who temperamentally in some ways shares Trump's sort of approach to politics and to some extent he and his circle have expressed admiration for Trump's ability to upset the applecart in United States politics. So it's another relationship of very great relevance to Europe to watch for, whether or not Erdogan is skilful in his first meeting, whenever that occurs, at seducing Trump and making him think, I'm with you, I'm one of you.
PIERRE VIMONT: If I can add something, I think Turkey definitely, maybe also Egypt will need to be watched very carefully, how they relate with this new ongoing administration and certainly also Saudi Arabia. I think these are important partners for Europe and Europeans will have to watch closely how these different bilateral relations will develop in the future.
TOM CARVER: Great. Okay, our time is up. Thank you very much to Pierre Vimont, Judy Dempsey and Tom Carothers. We will be coming back to this obviously at hopefully fairly regular intervals as the Trump administration starts to unfold. As I say, there will be a transcript available and we will circulate that to everyone who responded to the call. So I appreciate your time and thank you very much for participating.