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Europe Eyes U.S. Election

USC Dornsife’s Mai’a Davis Cross speaks in Paris, France, regarding how the upcoming presidential election affects European Union interests.

By Andrew Good
October 30, 2012

Mai’a Davis Cross, assistant professor of international relations in USC Dornsife, participated in a recent international symposium in Paris hosted by the German Marshall Fund and SciencesPo, the Paris Institute of Political Studies. Photo by Steve Cohn.

Mai’a Davis Cross, assistant professor of international relations in USC Dornsife, participated in a recent international symposium in Paris hosted by the German Marshall Fund and SciencesPo, the Paris Institute of Political Studies. Photo by Steve Cohn.

As Nov. 6 draws nearer, more than just Americans are paying close attention to the presidential race. In Europe, scholars are following the campaign with keen interest, curious how the next president’s administration will interact with the continent.

European Union (EU) expert Mai’a Davis Cross contributed to the dialogue during an international symposium in Paris hosted by the German Marshall Fund and SciencesPo, the Paris Institute of Political Studies.

Davis Cross, assistant professor of international relations in USC Dornsife, was among several American scholars who exchanged perspectives on Europe with their European counterparts during an Oct. 26 panel on foreign policy.

The inclusion is timely recognition for Davis Cross, who was honored in September with the 2012 Best Book Prize in Contemporary European Studies given for her 2011 book, Security Integration in Europe: How Knowledge-based Networks are Transforming the European Union (The University of Michigan Press).

Davis Cross — the youngest educator ever to receive the award, which spotlights groundbreaking scholarship — said this year’s presidential campaign is being held amid a transition in American-European relations.

She noted that Europe, a traditionally strong global partner for the United States, has been placed on the back burner as the U.S. focuses more of its attention on a rising China. Neither President Barack Obama nor Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to restore the close working relationship that Europe and the U.S. have enjoyed in the past.

“Looking at President Obama’s first four years, it’s as if he challenges Europe to be an equal power but doesn’t encourage Europe to do that in ways that can be achieved through diplomacy and day-to-day interaction,” Davis Cross said. “Under a Romney presidency, from what we can tell so far, we could expect perhaps an emphasis on Russia, with more of a Cold War mentality.”

She added that some EU states, especially in the east, are still concerned by Russia’s power, “but I doubt the approach Romney would take would involve or encourage European participation.”

Davis Cross emphasized that Europe’s role in the world is often undervalued, particularly in the American press, which tends to focus on infighting among EU member states while ignoring its many accomplishments.

It’s a misconception she hopes to address in future books, and which she confronted in her book, which examines informal networks of ambassadors, military officials and scientists that drive security policy both within and outside the EU.

Davis Cross noted the union is unique in its blending of hard and soft powers, often leveraging its military strength for humanitarian intervention, peacekeeping and crisis management — roles that helped earn it the Nobel Peace Prize this month.

The EU has participated in 27 missions and operations in less than 10 years, she said, and it doesn’t just send troops on those missions. Judges, police officials and legislative experts are sent to help organize infrastructure in unstable areas.

This action and power strategy represents the EU’s value to the U.S. But the union’s defense budget struggles raise another question: How might the U.S. elections affect that power? Will they encourage Europe to be a strong partner or ask that the union separate itself from American goals.

Confronting these questions offers another chance to close the “knowledge-deficit” that surrounds the importance of the region, Davis Cross said.

“I think in general, the European Union punches below its own weight,” she said. “People are just not aware of all that it has achieved.”