The Brief, powered by ENTSO-E – What if Trump refuses to concede?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA/ROBERT GHEMENT]

It’s less than a week until the ‘most important ballot in the world’ and Europe is bracing itself for the possibility of a contested US presidential election. What if Biden wins and Trump refuses to concede? But don’t hold your breath – the final result may take days, or weeks.

Citizens in seven European countries – Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Sweden – would overwhelmingly and unambiguously favour Biden to win, a YouGov poll showed in early October.

However, barely 10% think the vote will be “fully free and fair”, a finding that resonates with diplomats across the globe, including European ones (albeit privately), who worry that Trump may not accept an election defeat and could instead send America into unchartered territory.

Trump, trailing Biden in opinion polls, has already raised eyebrows, asserting that mail-in balloting leads to fraud, even though experts say such fraud is rare. He has also refused to say if he would accept to step down if he loses.

In-person votes are tabulated automatically and, in most cases, are ready to be announced within hours or even minutes of polls closing. But mailed ballots involve a laborious process and each US state has its own rules.

Some states will only count mailed ballots that arrive by election day (3 November); others will accept them up to 10 days later if they are postmarked by next Tuesday.

In previous elections, around one percent of mailed ballots were rejected, and that figure is expected to rise with the surge of mail-in votes, which could literally mean hundreds of thousands of disputed ballots.

Bottlenecks include the under-funded postal service and signature verification.

“We are expecting large delays in outcomes as votes are processed,” Lonna Rae Atkeson, director at the Institute for Social Research, University of New Mexico, told EURACTIV.

The Supreme Court recently enforced Trump-ally Justice Amy Coney Barrett, after a rushed appointment, is now a 6-3, conservative-liberal bench.

Several challenges to voting rules in key states such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina are already pending before the court.

Many Americans also will have in mind the precedent of Bush vs. Gore.

After a wild election night on November 7, 2000, when pundits first called the key state of Florida for Gore, then for Bush, followed by a concession by Gore that was soon rescinded, the results were simply too close to call.

In the 36 days that followed, Americans learned that Gore had won the popular vote by 543,895 votes. But in the complex US system, it’s winning the Electoral College that counts.

In the end, the Supreme Court decided, and Bush became the first president since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to lose the popular vote, but win the general election.

Now, imagine this: it’s election night (morning for Europeans), the result is too close to call and Trump quickly declares himself the winner.

What will Europe do?

The EU’s diplomatic arm, the EEAS, has been playing around with different scenarios, but of course, no one is ready to publicly speculate about them or a potential EU response.

What is sure is that a second term for Trump would encourage the populist nation-first approach by some European countries, such as Hungary, and by autocrats in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines. They will be quick to send congratulations.

The EU itself, however, will not.

Even in the best of times, EU diplomatic statements have a rather slow pace. And this case will be an even more tricky one with the transatlantic rift running deep through member states.

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The Roundup

Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said that if Bulgaria, the country with the lowest wages in the EU, were to introduce the same wages as his native Luxembourg, the very next day there would be “no Bulgarian economy”.

European Council President Charles Michel urged member states to adopt the quicker antigen coronavirus testing method, common rules on virus management and to avoid vaccine “chaos”

The European Parliament’s coronavirus test management website is overrun with user tracking requests, some of which are attempting to siphon data to US-based firms, just as the future of transatlantic data flows is far from clear.

The forthcoming Portuguese EU presidency will put forward a ‘Charter of Digital Rights’ as part of its leadership of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2021, a government official from the country has informed EURACTIV.

Although women make up roughly half of the world’s population, they remain largely underrepresented in the traditionally male-dominated domain of foreign and defence policy, a newly launched index has found.

Three centre-right Czech parties haven signed a memorandum on forming an alliance for the next year’s general elections. The aim of Civic Democrats (ECR), Christian Democrats (EPP) and TOP 09 (EPP) is to defeat the ruling ANO party (Renew) of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.

Night train services across Europe will be put on hiatus in November, Austria’s railway company announced, as soaring coronavirus case numbers make cross-border routes untenable for the time being.

Look out for…

  • EU leaders hold informal video conference on COVID-19 response
  • Informal meeting of EU transport ministers
  • European Parliament’s AFET, SEDE, CONT, TRAN, FEMM Committees

Views are the author’s

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