The majority of Europe breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Biden was elected. During the four years of Trump’s presidency, Trump succeeded in alienating many European leaders by pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, denouncing the Iran nuclear deal, NATO, and the World Trade Organization, and putting tariffs on European steel and aluminum. Europe has already been in a weak spot for many years, with the migrant crisis, the eurozone debt crisis, and uncertainty about economic and political integration. Trump called Europe’s major cities “immigrant-ridden, dangerous ‘no-go’ zones,” according to The Washington Post. He became friends with populist leaders in Eastern Europe, including in Slovenia, Hungary, and Poland. Sudha David-Wilp, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told the Japan Times, “the transatlantic relationship is practically on life support.” A current Pew survey revealed that only a third of respondents in nine European countries have a favorable view of the US, says Quartz.
Biden’s election promises a return to a more traditional order that the EU is accustomed to. According to the Atlantic, Europeans feared that if Trump was re-elected, the current ‘rules-based liberal order’ would be threatened: “in one sense, Biden’s victory returns a recognizable, reassuring figure to the Western throne—a restoration of the old dynastic order—a figure who will hear Europe’s petitions with respect and grace.” An internal document among EU members read, “the arrival of a new administration and congress…is an opportunity for the EU to renew and reinvigorate its strategic partnership with the U.S. based on mutual interests. The EU should agree a set of concrete priorities on which to engage the new US leadership,” according to Reuters. There are key issues that the EU and the U.S. can tackle together: fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, helping with economic recovery, fighting climate change, upholding peace and security, and promoting human rights. An EU-U.S. summit where a new transatlantic agenda will be worked on is planned for the first half of 2021.
Despite Biden’s election opening the possibility of the EU and the U.S. coming closer together, the question remains whether the U.S. will be able to recover from Trump, and if so, how soon. There are still huge divides between the EU and the U.S. that will take time to resolve, if ever. Although Trump is gone, the ideology that fueled his rise to power still exists, and has created a very divided United States. Time quoted Clément Beaune, French Minister of State for European Affairs at the Paris Peace Forum, “what led to the election of Donald Trump four years ago remains. This kind of discomfort of globalization, this fear of China, this concern about multilateralism, remain.” Between the race issues in the U.S. and the coronavirus, Biden will be likely busy with addressing domestic issues over international ones.
Several key issues concerning the EU and U.S. are Iran, China, and EU security. Biden has said he will return the U.S. to the Iran nuclear deal, which would involve lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran. Biden may not lift sanctions if Iran is still not observing the deal, and will need to negotiate the conditions for lifting sanctions with the EU. The EU and U.S. are on the same page that they need to contain China’s growing power, but have not been in complete agreement on the way to do so. Trump imposed tariffs on China and also publicly spoke against them, while the EU has maintained trade relations. Biden will have to decide whether to maintain the tariffs, or relax them while negotiating other issues, such as climate change. Trump accused the EU of being security freeloaders, relying on the U.S. for military aid. This has been a contentious issue even before Trump, although previous presidents were in favor of NATO. Biden is pro-NATO, but the issue of how to allocate American military resources in Europe still remain.
The EU also has divisions within itself that has the potential to cause conflict. With Trump in office, French president Emmanuel Macron advocated for more independence from the United States and saw the opportunity for the EU to strengthen itself from within. Populist Eastern European leaders have supported Trump and want to hold the U.S. close. Janez Jansa, the prime minister of Slovenia, posted a tweet congratulating Trump when he falsely claimed to have won the election. Judy Dempsey, a nonresident senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, told NPR, “[Eastern European leaders] loved nothing more than getting invited to the White House. And in that sense, they’ve lost one of their cheerleaders. France and Germany have also disagreed about EU defense and autonomy from the U.S. France is worried that Germany’s over-dependence on the US will prevent the EU from becoming a stronger world power, whereas German defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, says autonomy from the U.S. is unrealistic.
It is clear that Biden’s election brings a new political climate that the EU will have to navigate. The EU also does not know how reliable the U.S. will be, given that Trumpism still exists and could resurface. They should use this opportunity to become more independent and look at their own internal divisions. Complete autonomy from the U.S. probably is unrealistic, but the EU can take steps to become more self-reliant. The Atlantic quoted Clément Beaune, French Minister of State for European Affairs, telling French broadcaster C News, “Let’s not behave like children early seeking American benevolence. What’s important for Europeans is that they don’t expect their future to be determined by America.”
Europeans need to come together to tackle the issues that specifically plague the EU, such as the migration crisis and euro zone debt crisis, instead of relying on external support from the U.S. If the U.S. swings in an unpredictable direction, Europe will be self-sustaining and not swing along with it. They have been coming together for joint projects, such as putting aside 8 billion euros as a weapons development fund. They also responded jointly to the coronavirus through creating a 750 billion euro recovery fund. More projects spearheaded by European states themselves will encourage greater cooperation among them and promote the multilateralism necessary to address their biggest issues. US News says it will likely be 10 years before the EU has military independence from Washington, but it can take small gradual steps to become more independent.
The EU has the chance to redefine its relationship with the United States and how European states will come together to address military, social, and economic issues. Andreas Kluth of Bloomberg Opinion summarized the crucial position the EU is currently in: “the more the EU pursues its vague notion of ‘European sovereignty,’ the less valuable for America becomes. A Europe equidistant between East and West is of little interest to the US, and that in turn leaves the EU neither sovereign nor safe.”