(AGENPARL) – WASHINGTON (DC), dom 25 ottobre 2020 Transatlantic Take
Central and Eastern European Perspectives on the U.S. Election
The Trump administration has overlapped with years of intense civic and political movement in Romania. Romanians have taken part in significant street demonstrations against corruption and in support of democracy in the country and abroad. During this time, Romania has had four different governments, re-elected President Klaus Iohannis in 2019, and most recently held local elections at the end of September.
All these internal developments left the Trump presidency a lower priority on the public agenda. This was also accompanied by the lack of substantial changes in the U.S.-Romanian relationship, visible on many levels.
The population remains strongly pro-European and pro-United States. Under the Trump administration the trading and foreign direct investment relations have remained rather stable. The fiscal changes introduced by the government in 2017 have led to more perceived instability on behalf of economic partners, but this was not reflected in their engagement.
The foreign policy front has also not experienced massive shifts. The U.S. military presence continues as the country remains a strategic ally in the Black Sea region. Romania increased its contribution to NATO to 2 percent of GDP from 2017, based on a decision from 2015, which corresponded to one of the priorities of the Trump administration. Its commitment to the U.S. partnership was also emphasized through the official state visit of President Iohannis to the White House in 2019. The meeting, in which energy policy, the visa-waiver program, regional security, and law enforcement were discussed, confirmed the commitments made by the United States and Romania so far but did not necessarily expand on them.
The level of agreement on these issues varies. Romania is still one of the last four EU member states without access to the visa-waiver program, despite its strategic partnership with the United States, and no significant change in this is in sight. On the other hand, Romania and the United States are aligned in opposing Nord Stream 2 due to concerns regarding access to the European natural gas market and energy dependency on Russia.
The Trump presidency has also had an impact on Romanian society when it comes to the issue of disinformation. The general message of distrust in the traditional media and inaccurate statements from the U.S. president have contributed to an already unstable informational environment in Romania. Social media, and especially Facebook as the most popular platform, is widely used to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about a variety of topics in the country.
What a Second Trump Term Would Mean
A second Trump term would generate an issue of credibility of the U.S. democratic model for Romanians. But, despite this, a drastic change in the pro-Western and specifically pro-U.S. attitudes of the majority is unlikely to happen.
In a new Trump term, Romania and the United States would surely maintain security cooperation and continue working in the main policy areas mentioned above. Simultaneously however, Romania would most likely continue to bolster its relationship with the EU, as it will become its steadiest ally in issues related to strengthening democracy. This is already visible in the main funding sources for civil society in the democracy space, which are increasingly European in nature.
The expansion of far-right movements and conspiracy theories, such as the QAnon network, is an element of great concern with regard to a second Trump term. As these gain more ground and visibility, Romanian society will become even more susceptible to their influence and that of other disinformation campaigns. This can have destructive effects as seen during the coronavirus pandemic.
With Biden Romania Could Strengthen Democracy and Cooperation
A Biden administration would probably look to restore some of the U.S. geopolitical commitments that have been changed in the past four years, such as a strong pledge to NATO and international treaties such as the Paris Climate Agreement. This would be a strong signal for Romania, too, regarding the United States’ international engagement.
Apart from sustaining the economic and military relationship with Romania, a Biden administration would be more likely to also bring back U.S. attention to issues of core democratic values, building up civil society, and supporting the enhancement of institutional stability in Central and Eastern Europe. Intense civic engagement is one of the main reasons why Romania has not yet gone down the authoritarian path that Hungary and Poland have taken. Investing in civil society is key for its pro-European and pro-democratic trajectory.
At the same time, however, Biden is also part of a political establishment that does not respond to the demands for progressive thinking that parts of the U.S. electorate and the world make. A positive perspective on a Biden presidency would also depend on the progress it makes on issues such as racism, women’s rights, and climate change. Romania will be following closely the developments in the United States and hopefully even take the cue from progressive changes there.
For Romania the outlook is rather straightforward. It will remain a strong U.S. ally regardless of the political color of the incoming administration, but its democratic system, institutional strength, and civil society development will be more firmly fostered if there is a new U.S. president in 2021.
This is part of our series on the policy implications of the 2020 U.S. elections for U.S. allies—you’ll find the rest of the series HERE.