Wednesday, 14.11.2018 - Wednesday, 14.11.2018

Baltic Perspectives on EU Challenges: the US Midterm Elections

The US midterm elections attracted far more attention than usual. The balance is mixed. Many questions remain open, especially with regard on how the results affect the transatlantic relations.

Much has been reported about the US midterm elections in advance. Will the Democrats conquer the House? Can they defend their seats in the Senate? Will the elections strengthen or weaken President Trump? Would it perhaps even be possible to initiate impeachment proceedings? And what impact would these scenarios have on the EU?

Just over a week after the midterm elections, FES organized a lunch debate with experts in foreign and security policy in Riga in order to discuss the election results and exchange perspectives on the currently tense transatlantic relationship. Anna Wieslander, Director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council and Peter Chase, Senior Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the Berlin Office, were invited to share and discuss their views on the developments surrounding the "Midterms". Among the other lunch guests were the American Ambassador to Latvia, Nancy Pettit, representatives of the French and German embassies and parliamentarians of the Saeima, the Latvian parliament.

Anna Wieslander gave an overview of developments in EU-US relations since Donald Trump's election in 2016 and emphasized Europe's duty to act autonomous and responsible in global security and defense policy. Peter Chase explained the results of the midterm elections and discussed his predictions for the second half of Trump's legislature and the subsequent presidential elections with the lunch guests. Overall, Chase said, Democrats have not only won the House, but have also managed to hold a surprising number of Senate seats. Nevertheless, he does not expect significant changes in US foreign policy over the next two years. At the moment, Washington prefers pragmatism over progressivity, especially as the president continues to assemble a large number of supporters in the country.

The challenge that Wieslander, Chase and many of the lunch guests saw in the recent elections is the increasing polarization within societies. This is not only the case in the US, but a global development. A significant part of the US-Americans is afraid of change, but instead of helping people to adapt to changes, fear is fueled by the promise of protection and the return to "past greatness". The young and liberal politicians, who have now been elected to the Senate and the House, are an opportunity for a more progressive policy that does without protectionism and nationalistic narratives. However, one should not assume that the election of Donald Trump was just a temporary shock to the USA and the international community, concluded Anna Wieslander. NATO and the EU should not rely on Trump being voted out of office, but should be prepared for leadership in international security policy, regardless of possible future election results.

The lunch debate was organized by FES in close cooperation with the Latvian Institute for International Affairs (LIIA).

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