EU betting on Biden – not so fast

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

File photo. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) receives US Vice President Joe Biden at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 1 February 2013. [Maurizio Gambarini/EPA/EFE]

It would make sense to work hand in hand with the Biden Administration where strategic interests overlap, and on issues where President Biden can deliver. But the EU must also be able to act and lead on issues over which the US political class is divided or doesn’t care much about, writes Borut Grgic.

Borut Grgic is the founder of the transCaspian Project, focusing on transatlantic ties.

Joe Biden won the 2020 US Presidential election fair and square. Even if Mr Trump tries his best to undermine the electoral results, smear US democracy with conspiracy, and block transition, Joe from Scranton will be the 46th President of the United States.

Trump will eventually be gone, but his legacy and his policies will remain and haunt the US policy establishment for decades to come. For anyone eager to repair the EU-US relationship this is a huge problem.

Despite a solid victory, Biden’s win was not the landslide many had hoped for, and his subsequent calls for unity are falling on deaf ears. More than 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump – they are bitter about the loss, just like their champion who is mobilizing his base to oppose, stonewall and undermine President Biden from the moment he takes office.

Republican Senators have so far shown not an ounce of goodwill towards Biden, which sends a clear message to Europe: Trump may be gone but his vulgar brand of populism is alive and well.

The next four years will be no walk in the park for President Biden trying to undo some of the damage inflicted on the EU-US relationship by Mr Trump. Picking Anthony Blinken as his secretary of state is a strong signal to Europe that for Biden, good relations with the EU are a priority. But it is only a start.

Some policy decisions made by Trump cannot be undone without the backing of both the House and the Senate. And a majority in the Senate Biden does not have – at least not yet. Biden’s policy ambitions, like bringing the US back on board the Iranian nuclear deal and rejoining the Paris Climate Accords will be hard to keep.

President Trump in the last weeks also doubled down on China sanctions. Getting the Republicans on board to change course away from pursuing an all-out trade war will be a politically costly affair.

Biden is no cheerleader of China either. He is equally concerned by America’s dependence on Chinese manufacturing and imports, and discriminatory anti-western market conditions in China.

For the record, Trump was not the first to sound the China alarm. Obama was, and for the right reasons – currency manipulation was one issue, and it still is. Trade barriers to American and European goods, services and FDI in China are another major obstacle.

On withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, Biden might prefer to coordinate with the EU and NATO allies. But he too wants US troops out, and in the end won’t push the Republicans too hard to overturn or slow US pullout.

There is no more public support in the US for force commitments in protracted and faraway conflicts. And Mr Biden is inheriting a $3.3 trillion budget deficit, an economy damaged by COVID, and a national debt of over 23 trillion dollars. Pulling the US military out of the Middle East is, if anything, a financially prudent policy.

Trump sent a message to the Europeans early on: Damascus is a lot closer to European capitals than to Washington. Do something about it. Biden might stick to the same script on this too.

What’s in stock for the EU then? French President Macron has given thought to enhancing Europe’s “strategic autonomy”, picking up on a theme older generations of leaders in Europe have wilfully ignored: under the Trump administration Europe and the US drifted apart strategically and ideologically.

And there is no easy fix here, if at all. Obviously, it would make sense to work hand in hand with the Biden Administration where strategic interests overlap and agendas align, and on issues where President Biden can deliver. But the EU must also be able to act and lead on issues over which the US political class is divided or doesn’t care much about.

Climate change being one pressing issue where EU leadership is vital and urgent. In the US new oil drilling rights are being jammed through the Senate this month. Any reversals by Biden on drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will end up in the US Supreme Court, which is filled with conservative judges likely to uphold the interests of the US oil industry.

This goes against Biden’s Green Deal policy objectives, something the Republicans oppose anyways.

Because the climate crisis is real and needs urgent attention; because the rise of China has to be countered and contained. And because the decay in western democracies needs to be reversed, Europe has no choice but to drop its regional mantel and put on the pants of an international superpower.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe