Mud slinging as an export product

Europe is keeping a close eye on the US elections, and not just because of their high entertainment value. NATO and TTIP are also at stake, and what impact will the campaign have on various elections in Europe next year? Three experts at the RUG shed light on this.
By Maaike Vos / Translation by Alain Reniers

The harsh tone with which both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump compete in the US elections is striking. ‘The candidates no longer talk about each other respectfully. Not only do they differ in opinion, but they no longer take each other seriously as people,’ Jelte Olthof, university lecturer for American Studies, observes.

This tone is not necessarily a new thing for Europe. In the European Parliament, vicious and personal attacks are quite common, for instance from figures like Nigel Farage. ‘During the British referendum, the debate took a particularly aggressive turn,’ Olthof says.

For the most part, this does not apply to the Netherlands. ‘By treating your opponent with respect, you emphasise your own expertise. You show that you’re a serious politician.’ According to Gerrit Voerman, director of the ‘Documentation Centre for Dutch Political Parties’ (DNPP), the Dutch coalition system ensures that the chances of a ‘dirty campaign’ similar to the US are reduced. ‘In the end, the parties have no choice but to work with each other. The Dutch campaigns can be quite pointed, but not as vicious as the one in the US.’

European elections

The US elections are the precursor for a wave of elections in Europe. Next year, there will be elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Has Trump’s rise to the top paved the way for more populism in Europe? Voerman does not believe this is likely to happen. He feels that populism is part of the zeitgeist and this trend has only grown stronger since the turn of the century. ‘It’s apparent in the Netherlands with Wilders, in Germany with the AfD and in France with the National Front.’

What is apparent to Voerman and Olthof is that a lot of campaign techniques used in the Netherlands have been borrowed from the US. For instance, an increasing number of political parties specifically target their voters. Voerman sees this happening on social media. ‘Handing out roses at random, like the PvdA does, is not an effective campaign method,’ Olthof states. He asserts that more parties are checking where their voters are located, thus ignoring the people not already on their list, which is risky. ‘If you only focus on the people who you think you can win over, then you’re starting a process of polarisation,’ Olthof says.

NATO

Europe is expectantly watching the discussion regarding NATO, the organisation whose existence has been brought into question by Donald Trump. The Republican candidate also harshly criticised a number of European countries that are not pulling their weight financially. President Obama has also made this point in the past.

According to Tim Jelfs, university lecturer in the American Studies department, it is not all that bad. ‘If Hillary Clinton wins, which is quite likely to happen, then not much will change. Perhaps there will be some more criticism, but I don’t think there will be any radical restructuring.’

If Trump wins, however, anything is possible. Jelfs explains that many Americans feel that they have to cover the costs of guarding the Western world’s safety. It is not entirely unfounded, as the US pays for about three-quarters of NATO’s budget. Moreover, many European countries do not keep to the agreement of spending two percent of their gross national product on defence. For the Netherlands, for example, this is only 1.16 per cent.

Republicans and Democrats alike feel that European countries do not meet their financial commitments. And presidents have a lot of leeway in terms of foreign policy, more so than when it comes to national policy. ‘A victory for Trump could have some serious consequences,’ Jelfs suspects.

TTIP

Europe is expectantly watching the discussion regarding NATO, the organisation whose existence has been brought into question by Donald Trump. The Republican candidate also harshly criticised a number of European countries that are not pulling their weight financially. President Obama has also made this point in the past.

According to Tim Jelfs, university lecturer in the American Studies department, it is not all that bad. ‘If Hillary Clinton wins, which is quite likely to happen, then not much will change. Perhaps there will be some more criticism, but I don’t think there will be any radical restructuring.’

If Trump wins, however, anything is possible. Jelfs explains that many Americans feel that they have to cover the costs of guarding the Western world’s safety. It is not entirely unfounded, as the US pays for about three-quarters of NATO’s budget. Moreover, many European countries do not keep to the agreement of spending two percent of their gross national product on defence. For the Netherlands, for example, this is only 1.16 per cent.

Republicans and Democrats alike feel that European countries do not meet their financial commitments. And presidents have a lot of leeway in terms of foreign policy, more so than when it comes to national policy. ‘A victory for Trump could have some serious consequences,’ Jelfs suspects.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here