Brussels keeps its eyes on the US midterm elections

10 November 2022

EU capitals all let out a sigh of relief this week as the results of the US midterm elections began to roll in. Many were quick to celebrate the fact that the US Democrats seemed to have managed to prevent the “red wave” US polls had predicted would sweep across the country. Although the results are still rolling in, and it seems the Democrats will not have a majority in either house, President Biden’s party did much better than expected. 

With 35 of the 100 Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives up for grabs, the outcome of this election will determine who will control both houses for the second half of Joe Biden’s presidential term. Indicating his happiness, and perhaps relief, with the early outcome of the election, Biden has confirmed he hopes to run again for the presidential office in 2024, with an official announcement likely in early 2023. 

The potential return of a Republican majority in Congress revived transatlantic anxieties in Brussels and other EU capitals as such an outcome could have serious implications for EU-US relations and cooperation on a number of key issues – the most important of which is US support for Ukraine. Others include global efforts to tackle climate change and the transition to clean energy, US attitudes towards China, and the potential return of Donald Trump, or one of his like-minded allies, to the White House in 2024. 

EU capitals were particularly concerned about the House of Representatives given the crucial role the Lower House plays in decisions related US aid to Ukraine. The EU expects that a Republican-controlled Senate would be much more cooperative on Ukraine funding than a Republican led House of Representatives, as many Republican Senators tend to be more supportive of providing aid. 

In the case of a massive Republican wave, approval of any additional aid in the future would likely prove much more difficult. The Biden administration would find itself faced with a very challenging political battle in the face of Republican scepticism over further funding. To date, the US has approved approximately $54 billion in military, budgetary and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. While it is not likely US aid to Ukraine would cease altogether, it is likely the level of funding would decrease significantly. This could have serious implications for the EU, as it would be placed under much more pressure to up its financial contributions. Having mobilised €19.7 billion since the start of the war, the EU is trailing behind the US in terms of its financial aid to Ukraine.  Of this, €4.2 billion has been disbursed and an additional €2.5 billion is due to be disbursed at the end of November. Earlier this week, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the Commission’s proposed 2023 support package for Ukraine worth some €18 billion. 

In terms of efforts to tackle climate change, a Republican resurgence could have a very damaging effort on US efforts to tackle climate change, with some senior Republicans now calling for a need to reinforce US fossil fuel sector in response to the European energy crisis. If the Republicans win the House, many expect them to increase pressure to scale up US production of nuclear and fossil energy. Although Congress would not have the power to take the US back out of Paris Climate Agreement, members could make discussions on funding for climate cooperation and green technologies a lot more difficult. 

Despite the Democrats surprise success in this week’s election, these midterm elections must come as a reminder to leaders across the EU that despite the significant progress made in EU-US relations since Biden took over the White House, American politics can still have a very significant impact on EU affairs and the politics of national governments across the bloc.