US Elections Untangled – EP 9: Trump and the End of EU’s Innocence (with Juha Jokela)

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Is the American democracy itself at stake in the 2020 elections? Will foreign powers try to interfere with the elections again? What is the significance of these elections to climate change, NATO or the American relationship with Russia, China and Iran?

FIIA Podcast US Elections Untangled dives deep into the big questions surrounding the 2020 elections. Drawing on the expertise of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA), the series looks mainly at the international relations implications of the elections.

The series is hosted by Visiting Research Fellow Maria Annala from The Center on US Politics and Power (CUSPP) at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs who is an expert in present day American politics. Joining her in the studio will be a wide array of international relations experts from FIIA. This podcast was made possible in part through support provided by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

US Elections Untangled – EP 9: Trump and the End of EU’s Innocence (with Juha Jokela)

For the EU, the Trump presidency has meant the end of innocence, the realization that the US may not be there for Europe. Hence, Europe has to learn to stand on its own two feet.

 – European leaders have had to come to terms with the fact that the relationship with the US can change, says EU Programme Director Juha Jokela from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

 European leaders are hoping the relationship will get better if Joe Biden becomes the next president. Jokela points out, that even if it does, many things have already changed in the increasingly multipolar world, where power politics and geoeconomic reasoning play an important role.

 – This is a point in time when a more constructive US­-EU relationship could have had a real impact on the development, and that opportunity has been lost.

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Intro starts. 

The host Maria Annala: Welcome to US Elections Untangled – a podcast series brought to you by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs 

Audio recording of Donald Trump: From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it is going to be only America first, America first. 

Audio recording of Joe Biden: Donald Trump’s brand of America first has too often led to America alone. 

Maria Annala: Hi everyone and welcome to US Elections Untangled. I’m Maria Annala from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, and I’m going to be your host throughout this podcast series. 

Annala: In today’s episode, we’ll be talking about the relationship between the US and the EU. Our guest today is EU Programme Director Juha Jokela from the Finish Institute of international affairs. 
Hi Juha, thanks for being here. 

Jokela: Hey Maria, it’s nice to be here. Thank you for the invitation. 

Annala: So the relationship between the US and the EU has been different under President Trump than under any of his predecessors. Just how unprecedented is this situation in your opinion, and how big is the change and how permanent do you think it will be? 

Jokela: Well, it’s quite unprecedented. Of course there’s been hiccups between the EU and the US previously as well. In the field of Trade, for instance, there’s been hard talk. There’s been some action as well related to the liberalization of trade, but… and also in terms of foreign policy security issues, I think we all remember the Iraq war, for instance, which divided Europe and US was using a rhetoric of old and new Europe, for instance. One of the most divisive issues, actually, indeed in the foreign policy history of the EU. But I would say that these three years through, almost four years now that they are quite unique in terms of some of the fundamentals of that relationship related to the security in particular have been questioned. Of course, we’re all wondering to what extent this rhetoric and this question is real in the sense that what has actually happened. But I would say that even the kind of the rhetoric which questions and the policies that to some extent support that kind of questioning… it is unprecedented if we think about the post World War order. If we think what are the US strategic interests and security interests and what they have been traditionally. 

Annala: And do you think there’s been permanent damage to the relationship or will it just change back if there’s a power change in Washington? 

Jokela: I think there’s been at least a kind of a, I would say lost opportunity. So if we think about the world at the kind of what we have seen already for 10, 15 years, the kind of the turn to multipolar world, the kind of return of power politics to some extent, but also sort of geopolitical geoeconomic reasoning. All this great power relation stuff that we’re doing at FIIA and all the other institutes as well looking at the world events. So I think this is a kind of a point in time when a kind of a more constructive US-EU relationship could have had a real impact on the development and that kind of opportunity I would say that has been lost. But if we think about that, whether this is a permanent damage and what kind of damage has been caused, so I would be quite careful to say that anything is kind of permanent. I think the US and the EU can build a quite different kind of relationship in the future if they want to. I would say that many of the policies that Trump has issued and also the hard rhetoric could be reversed. Of course, there would be this kind of period of Mutual Trust building. I think that would be needed, but I wouldn’t say that the kind of a permanent damage has been caused. What has been caused is perhaps that the Europeans, the EU member states, and the political leadership of the member states in the Union I think they have had to come in terms with the fact that the US policy and US relationship with Europe can change. This has caused the discussion about the strategic autonomy, for instance, which has been discussed in the field of Defence also in the field of foreign policy. Now it’s discussed more and more in the field of economy, also because of the COVID-19 crises. So I think this is something permanent in the kind of the mental landscape of Europe and the EU. That there might be a moment where Europe has to stand on its own and this is something that I would say that the Trump administration has caused. 

Annala: So maybe you could say that innocence has been lost in a way that Europe, Europeans no longer can afford to think that they can always rely on the US, the US will always be there. 

Jokela: I think that’s the kind of end of innocence. I think it’s also not just the US, but if you think about the whole world, how it’s changing. I think this is also sort of a moment of reflection for the EU. I’m kind of a generation which has understood EU as a normative power in foreign affairs, a kind of a soft power actor. Of course, its straight policy has always been to some extent quite hard, but of course there’s been also this software elements attached to that. Also the kind of idea that liberalization, opening market you know although it doesn’t always serve the every EU member state interest, but overall the whole process serves the European and member states’ interest. So I think this has, you know, changed also to some extent and I think there is a kind of a moment of reflection going on in the European capitals including Brussels. This is partly I would say speed it by the Trump administration, but it also relates to the other developments in world politics and economy. 

Annala: How has the EU responded to this change, to this loss of innocence and realization that the US won’t necessarily always be there? 

Jokela: Well, in the field of Defence I think this is something that has kind of speeded up the EU’s defence cooperation. Of course, there are all the other elements of European defence cooperation as well, but where the EU has really been important and where the development has happened has been the defence industrial base that means research innovation and also defence material markets. This is where I would say that the change in US policy and rhetoric have actually changed I would say the previous divisions within the EU: Whether the EU or even European Commission should actually enter in the field of Defence at all or whether this is something that the EU stays outside. So the previous contents was that the EU could operate in the field of crisis management and there was a division of labour between the NATO and the EU. The EU focused on military aspects of it, but also very strongly on the civilian part of the crisis management. Now the new consensus, which has emerged among the European Union member states, is that the EU could act in the field of defence industry and try to get out of the kind of the single market logic. Of course, it’s different in the field of defence. So sort of the efficacy for EU member states to kind of actually live up with the pressure coming from US, but also from the world in a way. The EU member states defence funded budgets have been decreasing after the Euro Zone and the global financial crisis and also that the defence materials are becoming more and more expensive. So there are two major developments. One is the European Defence Fund, which has been established within the Commission with their own DG within the Commission as well. Then there is the PESCO which is kind of a joint project which should be actually more than previously. So they should actually aim for defence cooperation, which comes close to integration in a way that we integrate different aspects of defence systems, for instance. This is something which  was debatable in the past, but now it’s been one of the key developments what has happened. The US reaction has also been quite interesting; because of course, first everybody here in Europe thought that now there’s been a sea of change also in Washington. That this kind of old worries related to the duplication that the EU and NATO duplicate some of the assets. Also kind of the old divisions related to the question of the US defence industrial base and it’s kind of possibilities to bid in European systems. It was taught here in Europe that this is all past that now EU and Europeans can move forward. When some of these plans, especially the defence fund, started to materialize, so the US has actually re-established some of its old reservations towards the European cooperation, meaning that there shouldn’t be duplication and that this European cooperation should be open for the American companies that it shouldn’t be protectionist. This has caused a little bit of debate among the researchers and also the policy makers because if Europe is required to spend more taxpayers money. So some of the member states think that, of course, Europe can establish its own industry, use its own labour to do that rather than to buy American. So at least you have those options on the table. 

Annala: Yes, that makes perfect sense from the European perspective. I’m not surprised though, I think for Trump when he talks about this money, this defence budgets he often misleadingly labels it as Europeans owing the US money. So I think in his mind the whole question of the Europeans ramping up their defence it’s not just so that US doesn’t have to defend Europe anymore. It’s also so that Europeans would rush in to buy more American products. 

Annala: What have the Trump trade wars meant for the EU and the EU-US relationship? 

Jokela: Well, it’s been again I would say a moment of reckoning for the EU in terms of trade as well. It’s not just the US but the let’s say the whole global trade system, which has been under pressure and then also questioned by the US because of the trade wars softer or harder and then the kind of questioning the joint institutions like the WTO. This is something where the EU really have to put some effort how to respond to this changing landscape of global trade. I think this is quite interesting in terms of EU’s actorness, because, of course it’s still too early to assess, but let’s say that the first reactions of the EU in the field of trade, they’ve been assessed by many experts actually to be quite sufficient ones. EU has been able to leave some of its internal divisions related to the trade and to what extent to liberate trade behind and find the consensus. Then the European Commission here has been the executive which has operated in the field of trade. This is also interesting because if one thinks about the European Commission, we often think as a technocratic body, executive arm of the EU, which oversees the regulation and attempts to be objective and neutral or so. But this is maybe something where we could see the previous Commission which was Jean-Claude Junker’s Commission and he labelled it as a political Commission. So you could really see that the politics kicked in the Commission in the field of trade. Because when Trump launched this first trade measures against the EU meaning that tariffs for aluminium for instance, so then the response that the Commission prepared and the member states authorized was also, I would say quite political. It hit, the listing hit exactly the kind of Trump strongholds in the US and the industries in there. I think some have argued afterward and the Commission itself at least in sort of a roundtable discussions that this is something what Trump really understood in a way. This was the kind of action, which he actually may be expected that when he plays hard, the others play hard against him. I think there are arguments suggesting that this was the moment when Trump also realized that the European Commission and its President, Jean-Claude Junker are the actors here he has to engage with. So we have had the Trump administration engaging with the national capitals of EU member states quite extensively here in Europe, but in field of Trade, it’s been the Commission and its president, which has kind of negotiated with the US. 

Annala: That’s a victory in itself, because Trump sort of made a very clear policy of wanting to ignore the EU and just have one on one bilateral relationship with each country. So forcing him to deal with the European Commission instead of each country is kind of a win for the EU. 

Jokela: Yeah, I think also that the European Commission was a kind of political actor and kind of had a strategic or tactical at least sort of approach. So I think this was something what Trump might actually appreciate that this is what he expects. If we look now back with the Trump policies towards Europe, so we have seen that not all the risks and threats have materialized. So  for instance, the car industry has been in the focus of the US administration, but the trade measurements haven’t been launched and now even during the past days US and EU have reached sort of at least modest consensus to lowering some of the other tariffs related to the trade. So there is this kind of a convergence, perhaps, or at least sort of a cooperation emerging in a strategic manner. Maybe the strategic manner relates more to the fact that the EU speed it up it’s trade negotiations with other regions and major states. This is of course something which is already do some extent done by the previous commissions, but the Junker Commission really sort of pushed hard to have movement in those negotiations. 

Annala: Do you mean, that if the US is acting out, we’re going to buy from some other countries and not from the US or?

Jokela: Well, I think it was also to some extent that, but it’s also the kind of the rules based trade system. As we know that has happened already earlier that it has become more bilateral, meaning that the rules are established by the FDA’s free trade agreements, which are quite deep and comprehensive nowadays and with the major trading powers or blocks. I think this was something where Trump moved to the sort of the trade war scenarios and started to launch his policies, so that the EU wanted to build up on those relations and speed up the process to have kind of rules based trading relationship with the other actors. Of course, there was a quite a bit of appetite for the other actors to do that with the EU, because US was becoming increasingly difficult partner in the field of trade. So I think EU used the momentum, but I think it was also kind of for its economic benefits, perhaps. It also used it in a way to defend the trade-based system because we know that the WTO has had problems already before Trump and we know that this global trade liberalization has actually happened most through these bilateral trade agreements. 

Annala: So the EU was trying to show the world that regardless of whether the US abandoned this system, we are still supportive of it, we’re still rooting for it and we’re still operating under the system?

Jokela: Yes, of course here I think also the EU’s rhetoric on trade has changed. I don’t know whether this is because of Trump or whether this is also because of itself, sort of internal development. So EU talks much more about trade defence for instance nowadays and the previous Commission, also this Commission. EU also kind of argues that the times, when EU was to some extent naïvely believing that the absolute benefits will always kick in in the end and benefit Europeans, are gone. But this is maybe more broad question than the Trump administration, meaning that the Europeans are focusing more on its economic interest as well. So this trading relationship with other blocks and other trading powers… I think there is much more sort of focus on safeguarding EU’s and member states’ interests. 

Annala: So we’re seeing a little bit of Europe first?

Jokela: To some extent, let’s say that the European interests are there, but I think it’s still quite far from the idea that the Europe first.

Annala: Well, how about if Biden wins? How do you think the economic partnership would change or would it change? 

Jokela: Well, I think the US will be reflecting the changes in the world economy and I think that China will remain as number one key question in the field of economy for the US. I think it’s hard to see that there would be some kind of a return to the past because the world has changed also during the Trump administration and before that already. So I think some of the elements what we have seen in a way harder American or let’s say interest based trade policies will remain, but I think it is quite unlikely that Biden would kind of go with the similar path of trade wars. For some reason I think the Democratic party and

 whoever would be a Democratic president would kind of look at the opportunities provided by let’s say the multilateral trading system, the bilateral trade agreements with the number of countries or different blocks, you know. I think the US would look at the Pacific again. It would look at Europe. It would look at different parts of world. How to move on with safeguarding US interests, but also move safeguarding the rules based trading system. So I think that would be a sea of change where Donald Trump has done. Also it would be interesting then to see what would be the US approach to the WTO, because we know what Trump has done. I think there is also the kind of the momentum now to reform the WTO. I think EU has put its proposals on the table. Of course it would be much easier for EU and maybe for the for the let’s say the Western countries to promote reforms if the US and EU would find common ground on reforming the WTO, also solving some of their own pickups related to the WTO. So I think there would be much more opportunities to move towards sort of a more, let’s say predictable trading relationship, which would be of course then appreciated by the by the business actors as well. Then of course the COVID-19 crisis. This is something, which we don’t really know what impact it will have on trade. Of course, there is the kind of the whole debate and discussion about the kind of the very global production chains, value chains. To what extent private businesses will kind of try to diversify their chains? To what extent there is a kind of a real move to relocate production closer to their markets or nearby? All this is of course something, which might provide another layer for the whole global trade discussion in the future. Of course, if US and EU would be if not on the same page but at least reading the same chapter of the book on trade, so that could would provide more possibilities for both power blocks to steer the trade arrangements and trade policy and global trading system. So I think if there would be a different type of approach in Washington towards global governance and global institutions in general. I think that already this covid-19 crisis could have actually promoted joint positions by the EU and US to reform some of the key institutions, to establish something new, to find common platforms to address this crisis and I think, common solutions. Whether those would be successful or efficient is another question, but at least there would be this kind of an attempt to have this kind of a global perspective on. I would as an analyst hope that this is hopefully the major change what would happen if John Biden would win the election, because I think he and his party, also he was the vice president of Obama, they are well aware of the need to find global answers to these global challenges. We have climate change. We have several other type of challenges, now the pandemic. I think it’s clear to at least us analysts that that one cannot operate, one cannot find lasting solutions with national solutions or sub regional solutions that you need global solutions for these problems. Of course, this would take us then to the question about the multilateralism and what kind of multilateralism is needed in the in the changing constellation of world politics with different kinds of power relations that we have had in the past. It would be interesting to see you know, how that relationship between USA and EU and the approach to multilateralism global governance might involve if there is a different president in Washington. 

Annala: Yes, there are a lot of opportunities there because the pandemic is definitely impacting everyone in such a powerful way that now might be the time, exactly the right time to start innovating and changing these traditional structures. Also the fact that we’ve seen what the lack of the US leadership means for global institutions that has maybe also made some people think, made some countries sort of see things from a new perspective, which might also make for fertile ground for innovation and for rethinking the global institutions. So that’s definitely going to be interesting to see… but going back to the EU-US relationship. Do you think that the EU still wants to cooperate with the US if there is a power change in Washington, do you think the EU has already soured on the US and decided not to play with such an unreliable partner, or would there still be will to build another relationship of mutual trust and mutual interests? 

Jokela: I think definitely there would be and this is a very… even in the field of security and Defence it’s still kind of a divisive issue here in Europe. I think this is like a kind of the idea that this is a temporary rupture in the Relationship and we can move back to the normal agenda in due course is something, what many European leaders and governments still see as the most likely scenario. This is something that the Europeans should keep in mind that they don’t now create kind of structures or policies here in the EU side, which might kind of undermine the possibility of going back to that relationship. Then on the other hand, I think there is of course, this is what we were discussing already, the strategic autonomy or strategic sovereignty. I think the world has changed, the US support has been questioned, so of course there  are some changes also I would say in the EU’s policy. But as we’ve been discussing the world keeps changing so rapidly and I think we have just started to see some of the elements which relates to the to the change in power relations in the world. So I think there is a kind of knew momentum for US-EU cooperation also in that sense in many fields of foreign policy trade and defence. So I think there are sort of the interests of these two power blocs also kind of clearly pointing to reasonably similar direction, so I wouldn’t say that that there would be any permanent damage done. 

Annala: I think we’re about to run out of time, but to finish off this discussion, could you describe one nightmare scenario and one optimistic scenario about what the November elections might bring about with regards to the US-EU relationship or the global world order? 

Jokela: I think the nightmare scenario relates to the question of war and peace. It relates to the fact that if there is no sort of western response and cooperation on some of the thorniest security problems and emerging similar security dilemmas and emerged security dilemmas that might become a nightmare scenario. This could happen in in different parts of the world. There are so many tensions and security challenges and  also wars ongoing that this is something where I think that if the western approach to the kind of questions of war and peace, if it diverge and if  there is no common ground on solving some of those questions that could easily turn out to be a nightmare scenario. I think this kind of a more joint position and also joint approach to some of these security questions is urgently needed and should be strengthened. Then the optimistic scenario. I think the optimistic scenario relates to the possibility of returning to the path of deep partnership and cooperation. It could actually radiate to all, to several fields of world politics and economy. So as we have been discussing, I think the US and the EU could have a real opportunity to shape how we deal with pandemics, how we deal with the challenges with the global trading system, how we deal with the challenges related to the other global challenges like climate change, and so forth. I think in that regard, I would say that maybe one of the most optimistic scenarios is related to the climate change, because we now know that the EU has already launched its own Green Deal, aiming to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050. This is of course something, which could change. The US could come to the similar path if John Biden wins the election, meaning that there could be synergies, there could be cooperation, there could be joint positions towards climate challenge. If these two economic powerhouses would kind of align in there policies toward climate, carbon neutrality, so I think this is something that the other world could not just simply ignore. This could be something, which could have very positive implications for the big challenge of climate change. 

Annala: Here’s hoping, thank you so much for being here! 

Jokela: Thank you very much Maria! 


Thanks for listening. Please tune in next week for our next episode.