The midterms are finally here. The atmosphere in the US congress resembles that of the calm before the storm, as everyone is out trying to convince those last-minute, undecided voters. The media coverage, however, has been so saturated with everything midterm-related, you have to do some research before you are be able to read about something else. On the one hand, it seems that the media has not learned much from the 2016 elections as the spotlight continues to be given to President Trump and his polarizing rhetoric. On the other hand, there is a lot more reservation when it comes to predictions on what the new Senate and House of Representatives will look like.
The results of the midterms are not only of profound importance for the future of American politics this time, but also for relations across the Atlantic. European politicians are waiting for the results as they might bring some well-needed release of tensions in the transatlantic space. A day before the midterms, however, another–some might say even more crucial for the future of US-EU relations–event will happen. On November 5, the US administration will namely reimpose economic sanctions—lifted under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—on Iran, which will also impose secondary sanction on European businesses wanting to work with Iran.
Since I have been in Washington there has not been much focus given to the transatlantic community. But as November 5 is here, the past week I had the opportunity to attend two events which tried to make sense of the current state and future of transatlantic relations. Interestingly, one was organized by the Embassy of Austria in Washington, the other one by the Helsinki Commission in Congress, giving me the opportunity to actually hear both sides of the same story.
There is a common position that the transatlantic relationship continues to be indispensable but is currently not functional. Both sides, however, seem to blame one another for why this is happening. On the one hand, in the US debate the EU is seen as a difficult partner due to rising populism and nationalism, and on the other hand the EU still does not seem to have an answer to the change in America’s foreign policy strategy. Consequently, there is a deadlock that is preventing a concrete vision for future policy or any other type of cooperation. It seems as if instead of focusing on the future it is easier to just reminisce on the past achievements and world order. Both the EU and the US, however, are in many ways facing similar internal and external issues and will therefore need to redefine their positions in the world. Blaming one another for current problems is not the way to go.