After Surprise Trump Win, Europeans Place Bets on Trans-Atlantic Ties

WASHINGTON, DC (November 10, 2016) – In the wake of the U.S. election results, the Bertelsmann Foundation hosted a trans-Atlantic conference call to gauge the European reaction to Donald Trump’s unexpected win. The November 9 call provided the first pan-European perspective on the new president-elect and the prospects for trans-Atlantic relations. With a view from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Turkey, participants heard from Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer and Hans Kundnani of the German Marshall Fund, Xenia Wickett of Chatham House, and Sinan Ulgen from the Istanbul-based Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies.

The panel of experts shared the concern that the result in the U.S. might have a ripple effect in Europe, effectively bolstering populist movements across the continent. From the National Front in France to the Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the aftermath of Brexit to the growing authoritarian tendencies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will the trend toward political polarization lead to catastrophic consequences?

In France, Trump’s win has emboldened Marine Le Pen, but has also signaled the necessity for mainstream political parties to form a coalition to block Le Pen’s path to Elysee Palace. Throughout Germany, the AfD has gained a troubling degree of support at the local and state level, and it is expected that this momentum will secure the party seats in the Bundestag for the first time next year. Though the AfD is far from a serious challenge to the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats on the federal level, they appear to have the wind at their back. The UK, for its part, has succumbed already to nationalist sentiment in the June referendum to leave the European Union. And although the UK Independence Party’s influence appears to be declining, the atmosphere that followed Brexit has forced the ruling Conservative party further to the right. The election of Trump demonstrated that the Brexit vote was not an isolated phenomenon, but perhaps a global indicator of what lies ahead.

Should Trump’s anti-trade stance from the campaign persist during his time in the White House, a key pillar of the trans-Atlantic relationship will be weakened.

In addition to concerns about how this election might catalyze populist movements in Europe, our speakers sounded the alarm on issues of bilateral and multilateral import as well. Candidate Trump’s comments on the campaign trail regarding the United States’ commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty was disconcerting at the time, and arguably irresponsible now. With increasing instability in Europe’s eastern and southern neighborhoods, NATO partners have had to contemplate a new security environment with America’s role in doubt. On the economic front, experts on the call voiced some dismay over the future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Should Trump’s anti-trade stance from the campaign persist during his time in the White House, a key pillar of the trans-Atlantic relationship will be weakened.

The initial reaction in Turkey to the prospect of a Trump administration, by contrast, was relatively positive. The Erdogan government believes that Trump will be less critical of it antidemocratic tendencies, which in turn will facilitate a closer cooperation between Ankara and Washington, in contrast to its strained relations during the Obama years. However, there are limits to Turkey’s enthusiasm over the Trump win. The president-elect’s Islamophobic rhetoric will not sit well with Erdogan, as he attempts to position himself as a unifying leader in the Muslim world. In addition, unequivocal support for Israel and its policies in the West Bank and Gaza may create additional tension with the Trump administration. It also remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will continue to play an active role in the Iran nuclear agreement. If the U.S. decides to withdraw its support from the Iran deal, there will be serious political and security repercussions for Turkey. The lack of policy detail from the president-elect has forced analysts and governments around the world to rely on campaign rhetoric for any indication of future policy. In the coming weeks and months it will become evident if these fears were well-founded. For now, nations across Europe will have to prepare for any eventuality.

Samia Yakub is the Director of Communications at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington, DC