The US perspective on the European parliamentary elections

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I sat down with Brian Beary from Europolitics late Sunday night to discuss the results of the European parliamentary elections, with a particular focus on the US perspective. USflagEuropean_Union

The link is here (unfortunately, subscription only), but here’s one excerpt:

Is there a US equivalent to the Eurosceptics that did so well in the European elections?

In a formal sense, it is a peculiarly European thing. There are no parties in the US that are saying ‘we need to pull out of the United States’. The one thing they do share is that politicians in the US, for at least two generations now, in every election run against Washington. And in Europe, whether it is the hard Euroscepticism of groups like UKIP or Front National, or the soft Euroscepticism of certain members of the British Labour Party, or Silvio Berlusconi, there is an anti-Brussels-ness that reminds me of the way US politicians campaign against Washington.

Though many commentators and academics like to refer to the European Union today as a kind of ‘United States of Europe,’ especially during the EU’s ill-fated constitutional debate in 2004 and 2005, I argued that the European Union today more closely resembles the confederation of US states that existed under the 1781 Articles of Confederation.

Most US headlines in the lead-up to the European elections have concerned Ukraine and the ongoing security crisis and showdown with Russia that’s caused a regeneration of interest in transatlantic security, NATO’s role and additional follow-on issues,  such as the potential US export of liquified natural gas to Europe. In the aftermath of the European elections, US headlines are focusing on the rise of eurosceptic parties like Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party and Marine Le Pen’s Front national in France.

In both cases, that’s understandable — and both topics are incredibly important. The real issues where the European Parliament will have the most impact in the next fiver years, however, are somewhat less sexy, but they should be on the radar of US policymakers and investors in the years ahead:

  • a new data privacy directive that, in the wake of the European Court of Justice’s ruling on Google, the right to privacy online and the ‘right to be forgotten,’ will likely impose significant regulatory requirements on data privacy — in ways that will make US businesses like Google and Facebook incredibly nervous, to say nothing of US policymakers still reeling from the revelations of widespread Internet surveillance by the US National Security Agency last year.
  • the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which promises to be one of the world’s most robust free-trade agreements between the United States and the European Union, and which could scramble trade relationships within Europe, between EU member-states and the United States, and trade between the US and EU and third countries.
  • a banking union that would establish a single authority for closing and restructuring large, troubled eurozone banks, and that could have ameliorated some of the financial crises of 2008-10 caused by failed banks and their subsequent nationalization by panicked governments. Though the banking union isn’t as sweeping as proponents might have hoped, it would significantly spread the risk of bank failure throughout the eurozone.

Though the European Parliament will be somewhat more fractured today than it was over the past five years, there’s still a broad consensus on all three of these issues on the center-right and the center-left in Europe.

The US midterm elections later this year in November might ultimately have more of an impact on TTIP’s future. Though Senate majority leads Harry Reid has refused to bring up the issue of trade promotion authority, which would allow US president Barack Obama to present a negotiated agreement to Congress without opportunity for amendment, in the current session of the US Senate, there’s a chance that he might do so in 2015 if the Democratic Party maintains control of the US Senate. If Republicans take control of the Senate instead, and Mitch McConnell becomes majority leader, there’s a chance that Republicans, who are generally much more supportive of free trade, might support Obama’s TTIP efforts. But there’s also a chance that McConnell and Republicans will try to deny Obama a late second-term policy victory.

In the longer term, US policymakers should also be thinking about the potential referendum in the United Kingdom on EU membership. British prime minister David Cameron has pledged, if reelected in May 2015, to negotiate new concessions for the United Kingdom and to hold a referendum in 2017. Farage’s rise means that there’s a serious chance that British voters might choose to leave the European Union. That would leave the top US ally completely outside the chief policymaking body of Europe, an outcome that would be particularly detrimental to US interests.

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