Through US Midterms, Europeans See Democracy Reaffirmed — But for How Long?
The U.S. midterm elections have been closely followed overseas — especially in Europe, where analysts say some of America’s closest and oldest allies are relieved that U.S. democracy held the course. But many are unsure for how long — and some are calling for a stronger and more independent Europe as a result.
In France and elsewhere in the European Union, the U.S. midterm elections have dominated the airwaves, including on Tuesday, as final results trickle in showing the Democrats retaining control of the Senate and the Republicans likely to narrowly win the House.
French analyst and historian Nicole Bacharan, who specializes in French-U.S. relations, said last week’s relatively smooth congressional vote eased fears within the European Union about the strength of America’s democracy — and their own sometimes fragile multiparty systems — that was shaken during the tumultuous aftermath of the 2020 U.S. presidential vote.
“The comforting thing about these midterms is obviously there is a majority of American citizens — Republicans and Democrats — who want to be heard through the vote,” said Bacharan. “They did vote — a lot. And they waited peacefully for the results.”
It may be a short-term reprieve. The next U.S. presidential election is only two years away.
“Well, 2024 is a big question mark everywhere — and in Europe especially,” said Bacharan. “Who is going to be the next president? What kind of international vision will he or she have? That’s all unknown.”
Frosty European Union-U.S. relations under former U.S. President Donald Trump have thawed considerably under pro-Europe President Joe Biden. Today, the two sides generally agree when it comes to key issues such as climate change and the war in Ukraine. But tensions still exist, for example, over last year’s hasty U.S. pullout in Afghanistan, or over a nuclear submarine deal with Australia that strained relations between Washington and Paris.
All of this bolsters calls for Europe to invest in its own security.
“We cannot be sure U.S. democracy sustains a medium-term, long-term commitment to underwriting European security in the [generous] way the U.S. has done over the past seven decades,” said Thorsten Benner, who heads the Global Public Policy Institute, a Berlin-based research group. He believes a Republican majority in the U.S. House, for instance, will push Europeans to invest more in Ukraine’s war against Russia. It’s a call he agrees with.
“It is primarily Europe’s problem,” said Benner. “This is a war in our neighborhood and not in Mexico or Canada. So we need to invest more.”
The call for a stronger European defense isn’t new. French President Emmanuel Macron has championed it for years. But progress has been slow.
“Europeans among themselves don’t agree on how to go about it. Just think of the French and the Germans, for instance,” said Bacharan. “And the capabilities of the United States — their military capabilities — [are] so much bigger, so much more enormous than anything going on in Europe. It’s not possible.”
Many said Europe may not have a choice. The next generation of U.S. leaders may be far less committed to the trans-Atlantic alliance than their predecessors. The earlier Europeans prepare for that possibility, they said, the better.