The US midterm elections for Congress and Senate are approaching. They will be held on 8 November, 2022 and will have an impact on Eastern Europe by shifting some foreign policy attention back to the region. The midterm elections might also have an impact on Bulgarian foreign policy.
Eastern Europe is classically a Republicans' region. Re-established Republican control of the House and Senate means more focus on Eastern Europe as a region. Renewed "focus" should generally be seen as both pluses and minuses.
If there is one rule of US elections, it's that the mid-terms are carried by the opposite party to the one that holds the Presidency. This November won't be different. That could mean a landslide win by the Republicans who will win and will shift back control over both the House and Senate.
But what does Republican majority in the House and Senate mean for Bulgaria? How does that impact Bulgaria and Bulgarian foreign policy?
US midterms Republican majority victory will increase pressure on Bulgarian foreign policy points, including those about purchases of Russian' gas, increased NATO defense spending and pressure for faster EU enlargement.
Opposition against Bulgaria buying Russian gas is a bipartisan position, held across the aisle by both Republicans and Democrats. Where it gets interesting, and where a Republican shift will make a difference, is that Republicans are more likely to put pressure on two things in comparison to Democrats: increased defense spending in NATO, and pressure on accelerating the EU accession process for North Macedonia. These two areas impacting Bulgarian foreign policy is where Republicans will be more present in comparison to Democrats.
Previously, in March 2021, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued
a joint bipartisan position by the Chairman, Senator Bob Menedez, and Ranking Member, Senator Jim Risch, on the occasion of the Bulgarian parliamentary elections. They stressed corruption and fair elections. Bulgaria is facing parliamentary elections again soon on 2 October, 2022.
Previously, Senator Jim Risch, as Foreign Relations Committee Chairman back in 2019, applauded
North Macedonia's accession to NATO in 2019.
Recently, in January 2022, Republican Congresswoman, Claudia Tenney, member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stated
that she does not rule out sanctions on Bulgaria over Bulgaria's veto on the start of negotiations for the accession of North Macedonia to the European Union, especially if Sofia does not change its position. Democrats would not be toying with the discussion of sanctions that way. In contrast, the Democratic Chairman of the Europe Subcommittee in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Bill Keating, issued a joint position in a letter to the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, looking for a compromise. His Republican counterpart, Congresswoman Tenney went straight for the sanctions talk, instead. This is a difference between Republicans and Democrats that should be noted. Republican Congresswoman Tenney now chases re-elections in New York's 22nd district, where she holds a red district in an overall blue New York. Depending on the upcoming midterms, this voice might disappear from the congressional foreign policy map.
Both Republicans and Democrats worry about a vacuum left on the Balkans that will be filled by China.
Other Republicans, such as Senator Josh Hawley, have stressed as a top goal increasing defense spending in Eastern Europe, during the Biden appointees' confirmations for NATO and Eastern Europe leadership positions. Republicans stress NATO spending pushing Bulgaria to buy more US-made planes, while that's not an issue that Democrats would prioritize. Republicans will apply more pressure on that front when they gain control over Senate again.
On the whole, a Republican shift in the House and Senate will turn out to be a two-edged sword: increased focus on the region that will bring challenges, as well as opportunities for US-Bulgarian relations. Overall, more pressure on foreign policy friction points are coming. That's why the US midterms matter for Bulgaria.
Iveta Cherneva is an author and analyst. Her latest book is "America in Free Fall" and covers the upcoming US elections.
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