The U.S. Elections matter to Europe, as to the rest of the world. European leaders however should stop commenting about the presidential candidates. Let there be no doubt: I have very strong views on the election campaign, on some of the candidates. But Europeans need to be careful with comments and the desire to see their mirror image reflected in the future president. It could backfire, even hurt the candidate of their dreams. Europe, like it or not, will have to accept the president American democracy produces and will have to get along with her or him, no matter what. There is lesson from the past. Europeans have burnt themselves dreaming of a "European" President, and soon ended up being disappointed.
Instead, Europeans should do everything they can to get ready to reinvent the relationship, come November. They need to understand: the more Europe will do for its own security and defense, its own stability and progress, the more inclined America's next leader will be to stay seriously engaged with us. Europeans must make it easier for the next President to make the case for a stronger and deeper Transatlantic relationship, to not just a skeptical Congress, but also an increasingly distanced American public. Both are asking the question; why should they care for Europe when America gets so much criticism, when Europeans think they have the moral high-ground. A sophisticated and high-brow response, which smacks of moralizing, will not do. Anti-Americanism is a feel-good thing for many Europeans on the left and the right, but it is also very damaging and at times simply ignorant. It is a dangerous replacement for honest self-reflection, for a serious new take on the relationship. In many ways it reflects their insecurity.
To most U.S. politicians or to average American voters Europe these days does not come across as the effective moral giant which can solve problems. Those (shrinking in numbers by the day) who care a damn about Europe at all, are worried. Their questions are reduced to but a few: is Brexit (British exit from the EU) for real? Is the Euro collapsing? Is it cracking under the pressure of the refugee/migrant crisis? They are puzzled by weak European reaction to an increasingly aggressive Russia, to the crisis in the wake of the Arab spring, the disaster in Syria, to backsliding of democracy in Poland and Hungary. They worry about the future of Europe.
They are our friends, and they are scared of the danger of Europe slowly sliding into irrelevance, understanding the cost to America. If this happens, pretty much the European elites, their complacency is to blame. Great PhDs will be written about the reasons and the exact moment this process became irreversible. It will be very sad reading. Because we will conclude that it could have been prevented.
But wait, we are not there yet.
Better scared than dead. While there is reason to think that we can slide into our demise slowly and by stealth, we can still reverse the process. It will take a lot of rethinking and humility. It will take serious new ideas in politics,social innovation and economics. It will require a new commitment to the Union, which was so promising in peacetime, beyond everything, but seems to be failing in war. It will require tough decisions on defense. For all this, a renewed transatlantic relationship is crucial.
However, above all, it will require serious leadership.
In waiting for the American people to take their decision in November, Europe needs to prepare to do its part to revitalize the relationship. It is not just about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aka TTIP. Or just about the 2% defense spending demanded by the U.S from NATO allies. (Although Europeans better take this demand seriously). It is about redefining it altogether , all its pillars and establish new ways and if necessary new institutions moving it into the 21st century. It is about jointly reinventing democracy. It is about joining forces with America to fight the challenges to our way of life, on all fronts: political, economic, social, environmental, technological, to energy-independence and security. It is about regaining the initiative globally to show the way for others to live in acceptance and equality. You name it. It is about holding hands in a big way.
The rise of Trump and Sanders is a reflection of wide disappointment with the elites of America. They are both symptoms, signs on the wall, which can come to haunt us all if not taken seriously. But then history tells us,whatever happens in America will sooner or later happen in Europe as well. Aren't Europeans already greatly disappointed with their own elites.As we saw at the German elections over the weekend, their German counterparts have entered the stage already.
In the run-up to the U.S. elections, even if it is absorbed by major crises, Europe will have to be more outspoken and clear about seeing the transatlantic relationship as the most important of all its relationships. Europe must see America as its next of kin, be clear about this being of existential importance.
So to my fellow Europeans: "Take your protein pills and put your helmet on....". And while of course it is their right to free speech, they should stop commenting on the Presidential candidates.