Why is Joe Biden not a solution for Europe?

  • Michal Beneš
  • 13.11.2020 11:03

We know the name of the new US president and all of our worries and concerns are answered...or are they? Most Europeans are relieved with the victory of Joe Biden, but their expectations of what he can do for them might be aiming too high. Joe Biden might not be able to repair the 4 years of Trump and completely restore security guarantees for the old continent.

The US elections are (hopefully) behind us and most of Europe nervously eye Joe Biden and his future cabinet. Trump’s “America First” policy has been an ongoing cold shower for most of the EU leadership for quite some time. With an approval rating as low as 6% in Denmark and as high as 20% in Italy, Trump has remained extremely unpopular. Meanwhile, Biden scores as much as 80% in Denmark, 71% in Germany to 58% in Italy. 

Trump has been actively antagonizing Europe for not contributing enough to its own defence alongside his isolationist policy, while China, Russia and Iran are on the prowl. EU leadership, dismayed enough by the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Iran Nuclear deal, tariffs against EU goods and haphazard American diplomacy now faces the further withdrawal of 12 000 US troops from Germany. Which Trump reproached for spending only 1,38% of its GDP on defence, instead of NATO’s 2% target. 

 

“Biden’s presidency won’t be just peaches and roses for Europe, as many might imagine”

 

Joe Biden’s election is set to change that, but how? As a Vice president, Biden has been mainly responsible for Obama’s foreign policy, from the Middle East to Europe. Even though he is known as an avid internationalist and has a record of pushing support for US’ allies abroad, Biden’s presidency won’t be just peaches and roses for Europe, as many might imagine.

In terms of NATO, Trump was not the first US’ president pointing out holes in the proper defence contributions. Obama and Biden were actively involved in the same. They were accusing Europeans of being lazy and comfortable with “freeriding” on the US’ defence umbrella. Obama even said that if Greece, in the midst of a financial crisis, could still spend 2% of GDP on defence, the same should not be a problem for the rest of NATO. Since the inception of a 2% spending goal at the 2014 NATO Wales summit, Obama was consistently more diplomatic than Trump. Who went as far as to threaten to leave NATO altogether if the target is not met. Nevertheless, Biden might not be as tolerant of the European audacity as everyone imagines him to be.

So, what can we expect from Biden? He pledged that he will restore lost trust in the US. His first foreign visit being a NATO leadership meeting, to assure all parties that “US is back”. Biden also hinted an increase to the Pentagon’s budget, rather than promising cuts as Trump did. However, some Trump-leaning opinions might remain during Biden’s 4-years as well. 

 

“Biden will still face a group of comfortable European states unwilling to raise their military spending, as Obama and Trump did. While having a much more unstable situation at home”

 

As a president, Biden will still face a group of comfortable European states unwilling to raise their military spending as Obama and Trump did. While having a much more unstable situation at home than any of them, to justify his potentially benevolent approach to the Europeans. Neither Obama nor Trump had to enter their presidential term without complete control of the US Congress. Current Democratic majority in the House has shrunk to only around 15 seats from 35 and the Republicans successfully defended the Senate and will most likely keep it. All while taking control of the Supreme Court for at least a decade or two. Which will seriously limit what Biden will and will not be able to do internationally. Especially since bipartisan compromises are harder and harder to come by in American politics.

Nevertheless, Biden marks an important change towards multilateralism. Contrary to Trump, Biden’s America should not face the world’s problems alone, without allies. We could expect a return to the negotiating tables, new coalitions to combat the world’s challenges and more coherent foreign policy. Instead of “Trumpist” punishing of allies for every move that the US’ president disliked, as in the case of adoption of 5G networks in Europe. 

Biden will, however, face an extremely tough challenge regarding the reversion of Trump’s policies. In some cases, Trump went far, but reversion of his policies could cause even more damage. Will Joe Biden move the US embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv? Will he send American troops back to Iraq and Afghanistan? Will he agree to Germany’s Nord Stream 2? Or will he back down with China? Any of these moves could question America’s reliability in the eyes of her allies even further.


An opportunity for Europe?

The hard truth is, Biden will not save Europe. Europe has to save itself. Another 4-years of Trump could have meant a further decline in liberal democracy and European integration. Already dealt a blow from Turkey, Hungary to, newly, Slovenia. Biden cannot, and will not solve European problems for Europeans. Europe has to embark on its own path to secure its own future, and not to hope for the best every 4 years, across the Atlantic. Multilateralism is the right way, but it will not solve everything. 

 

“Europe simply has to choose if it wants to remain a junior partner in the transatlantic security relationship or become a global, stable and secure power on its own”

 

Just before the US elections, Emannuel Macron was again seen voicing support for some form of a European army, to which Biden gave his full backing. Further defence integration among the EU member states is still largely seen as controversial for some. But it could provide Europe with a plan B if any future US president decides not to protect a misbehaving continent thousands of kilometres away. Europe simply has to choose if it wants to remain a junior partner in the transatlantic security relationship or become a global, stable and secure power on its own.

About author: Michal Beneš

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