Biden Wins: EU Plots Course with America in the Post-Trump Era

Written by | Tuesday, November 10th, 2020

“I am honored and humbled by the trust the American people have placed in me and in Vice President-elect (Kamala) Harris,” Democrat Joe Biden said on Saturday (7 November) in a statement shortly after several media outlets published projected results of the United States presidential election, which showed him above the threshold needed to clinch the White House. The projected Biden-Harris victory of Biden and Harris – now the first woman, first African American and first person of Asian descent to serve as vice president – comes after several anxiety-inducing days in which people around the world watched as battleground US states counted ballots and leads shifted between Biden and Republican incumbent President Donald Trump. Trump immediately accused Biden of “rushing to falsely pose as the winner”, repeating its claims of electoral fraud without providing evidence, and his campaign has pledged to challenge the result in some battleground states.
Meanwhile, there were sighs of relief in most European capitals, in part because of a widespread perception that the transatlantic partnership would be unlikely to survive another four years of Trump. Widely seen as pro-European candidate, Biden is likely to be a natural partner for Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in restoring the EuroAtlantic axis which Britain has now walked out of following Brexit, though he won’t dismiss Britain if only because the US does not want to see the UK’s standing and influence relatively weaken. And much to the rejoice of Europe, Biden will rejoin the Paris Agreement and (possibly but less likely) also the Iran Deal, and steer away from unilateral moves that make Europeans nervous.
But while the looming change in Washington is an opportunity for the old continent, Europeans should not be naïve about the challenges that the transatlantic relationship will face in the coming years – most of them structural but some likely to be exacerbated by impulses that the new president might find difficult to resist. Biden’s own foreign policy record is a mixed bag: while rhetorically he will style himself as the quintessential anti-Trump – a thoughtful, reliable, and thoroughly multilateralist partner to Europe – there will be at least as much continuity in substance between Trump and Biden as there was between Trump and Obama, Biden’s former running mate. In particular, US foreign policy will continue to be shaped primarily by power competition with China and the looming crises in the Indo-Pacific region, and not by European concerns, which include the regional sources of instability in Syria, North Africa, or the Caucasus.
Therefore, several policy experts and EU politicians have cautioned against expecting the US would make a full U-turn toward Europe with Biden in the White House. Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform, whether with Trump or Biden at the helm of the US, the EU was going to have to start relying less on US leadership on the world stage in the years to come. Bond’s message that “Europe is going to have to work out how to do more things for itself” seems to have hit home for some observers in the European Parliament, including liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who wrote on Twitter that “whatever the outcome, the EU needs to take its destiny into its own hands.”

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