On Monday, November 10, 2014, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) Brussels office hosted a roundtable discussion on the results of the U.S. midterm elections and their implications for transatlantic relations. The discussion was kicked off with remarks by Glenn Nye, former Congressman (D-VA, 2009-11, U.S. House of Representatives), and John Harris, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Politico. Christian Leffler, managing director for the Americas at the European External Action Service commented, and Ian Lesser, senior director of foreign and security policy and executive director of GMF’s Brussels office, moderated the discussion.
Glenn Nye stressed that the election results had been somewhat expected, consistent to the trend of the president’s party losing midterm elections in the sixth presidential year, often dubbed the ‘sixth year itch.’ The public’s disappointment with the perceived economic situation also contributed to the results, along with Republicans’ criticism of Obama’s handling of global challenges, such as the crisis in Ukraine, the Ebola outbreak or the Middle East situation. According to him, however, the Republican victory may prove helpful for the Democrats in the upcoming presidential election campaign. Finally, Nye mentioned that a Republican Congress will also mean favorable conditions for trade agreements, including the granting the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to the president for the TTIP negotiations.
John Harris pointed out that the transatlantic relations are robust only when the president is strong. He argued that President Obama has shown himself weak in several ways, which has been the root cause of the Democrats’ defeat. Harris also stressed that the president and Congress will share the responsibility of performing poorly, so compromises will, ideally, be the rule between the legislative and the executive branch for the remaining term.
Christian Leffler, representing a European perspective, highlighted that Europeans hope that the four main transatlantic policy challenges will still be addressed: trade, data, energy and environment, and foreign policy. Leffler noted that particularly for trade, cooperation between the president and Congress is fundamental in order for the U.S. to keep up the pace with the EU as far as building up momentum and advancing the issue. Although the data issue is complex, he admitted, it seems that the two parties have reached a conclusion on how to approach the issue both internally and with the EU, as it is essential for the TTIP negotiations as well. Leffler said he would like to see progress on the climate change talks, in hope that transatlantic partners can subsequently apply pressure to the rest of the world. Finally, he emphasized that for energy the challenge that remains is to locate and identify the common interests and secure the energy paths in the European neighborhood. According to Leffler, coordination between the U.S. and the EU in foreign policy issues remains essential in order to deal with the current challenges posed by ISIS, Ukraine, Ebola and the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
The concluding Q & A session with the audience further addressed a variety of issues including data privacy, internal American politics, public opinion and defense spending.