EXCLUSIVE / Breaking with tradition, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) said it was reluctant to support Republican candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential race because of his rejection of strong ties with the EU, euractiv.com has learned.
Antonio López-Istúriz, the EPP’s Secretary General, told EURACTIV he did not rule out possible support to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton instead.
If confirmed, this would mark a departure from a long-standing EPP tradition of supporting Republican candidates in US presidential elections.
The EPP emerged as the strongest political party in the European Parliament following the 2014 election.
Its affiliates include some of Europe’s most influential parties at national level, including Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance and France’s Les Républicains currently headed by former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The transatlantic idea
According to López-Istúriz, the EPP support for a given US candidate will depend on their intentions about future transatlantic relations, including on the economy, security and – importantly – immigration.
Trump built much of his campaign around controversial remarks about keeping immigrants, Mexican and Muslim, out of the US.
The decision will be made after discussions with EPP’s national member parties and the EPP Group in the European Parliament.
The EPP official stressed that his party kept good relations with both parties, Democrats and Republicans, especially with their moderate wings and those who support strengthening transatlantic relations with Europe.
“In both parties, there are sectors, which defend this position [of reinforcing ties],” he noted.
López-Istúriz explained that in the 2008 elections, the EPP supported John McCain because of his backing of the transatlantic agenda. In contrast, on the Democrats side, Barack Obama opted for an international agenda focused on building ties with nations in the Pacific region.
Referring to the last US elections, he underlined that neither candidate was strong enough in their commitment to transatlantic relations.
“Therefore, the EPP was neutral and did not back any candidate,” he pointed out.
Wink to Clinton
Asked about the current presidential campaign, López-Istúriz told EURACTIV that it had become clear that “the most probable Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has already declared himself against a strong transatlantic bond,” which makes it difficult for the EPP to support his candidature.
However, he left the door open to supporting the Democratic Party.
“Now, we want to listen to the Democratic candidate, learn about her programme and her views on transatlantic ties, in order to decide whether to support the Democratic Party,” he stressed, adding that as Secretary General of the EPP and half American “I always regard with special interest and attention to those parties that stand for the transatlantic relations in the EU as well as in the USA”.
The Republican convention
The EPP official continued, saying that the Brexit vote did not affect the EPP’s decision on whether or not to support one or another candidate, but noted that the UK lost a crucial role.
“The only thing I regret is that until now the UK has played an essential role as a bridge in transatlantic relations between the EU and the US; and now, due to Brexit, it will not have that crucial position anymore”.
Asked if he will attend the Republican convention on 18-21 July in Cleveland, he replied:
“No, I will not attend. However, I will maintain my regular meetings with good friends from the Republican Party in the Congress and Senate in Washington and other places but not in the convention itself.”