Europe breathes with relief on the future of US relations

Europe breathes with relief on the future of US relations
Europe breathes with relief on the future of US relations
Europe breathed a sigh of relief at Joe Biden’s victory as hopes grew that it would usher in a new era of transatlantic friendship, goodwill and cooperation after the turmoil and tension of the era.

“There are now good chances for a real revival of multilateralism,” said German Finance Minister and Deputy Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the Financial Times. “We face so many challenges, but we can overcome them much more successfully with President Biden.”

Donald Trump’s defeat eliminates a leader who sparked trade wars against allies, undermined international institutions and challenged NATO, deeply unsettled Europe and destabilized transatlantic relations.

The hope is that European-US relations will now return to their pre-Trump state. “Undoubtedly this will bring more rationality to our relationship,” said a senior European official.

“We will deal again on the basis of common sense,” said Norbert Röttgen, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag.

According to a block official, high-ranking EU heads of state and government have coordinated the almost simultaneous publication of their congratulations to Mr Biden in order to stop mixed messages – and possibly seek security in numbers from setbacks by the outgoing administration.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, spoke of a “renewed partnership” between the US and Europe, adding that their transatlantic links are a “pillar of stability, security and prosperity” on both sides of the ocean.

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of the NATO Military Alliance, very much welcomed the election of Mr. Biden, whom he described as a “strong supporter of NATO and the transatlantic relationship”.

But those who expect a full revival of the old US-European alliance might be disappointed. Some warned that, even under a Biden presidency, Europe would never take the place it held in the hearts of America during the Cold War as Washington intensifies its focus on Asia and steps up its efforts to contain China.

“Let’s not be naive,” said Roland Lescure, a member of Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche Party. “The US focus has shifted from Europe to Asia since Barack Obama, and that is not going the other way around.”

Europe hopes Mr Biden will keep his promise before the elections to return the US to the Paris climate agreement and the nuclear deal with Iran. But concerns have also arisen that it will be hampered by a Republican-controlled Senate that will continue to demand a say in foreign policy.

“Biden has to rule a country that is deeply divided socially and politically. . . and where he lacks the broad political base to advance his policy, ”said Johann Wadephul, a high-ranking member of Angela Merkel’s CDU / CSU party. “That will have consequences for America’s ability to act in all areas of foreign policy.”

Germany can benefit most from a change in the White House. Angela Merkel was Trump’s favorite punching bag, attacked by Germany’s current account surplus to its relatively low defense spending and support for Nord Stream 2. The pipeline will bring Russian gas directly to Europe across the Baltic Sea, as the US said will increase Europe’s dependence on Russian energy. The president also caused consternation in Berlin in July when he announced plans to withdraw nearly 12,000 soldiers from military bases across Germany.

But the Germans aren’t celebrating yet. Berlin’s failure to keep its promise to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense means it continues to face US pressure on the issue. “We are not fulfilling this obligation and it is also not foreseeable that we will do so in the future,” said Wadephul. “I don’t see a political majority that is ready to achieve this goal quickly.”

It is also unlikely that one of the most neuralgic problems in German-American relations – the US sanctions on Nord Stream 2 – will go away. The measures that Berlin sees as highly inappropriate interference in its internal affairs have broad bipartisan support in the US Congress.

With regard to trade, the allies in Europe now expect a more cooperative approach. Nevertheless, conflicts on this issue could continue to flare up, said David McAllister, chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, “because the Democrats are protectionist too”.

Europeans also expect a Biden government to continue pressuring Europe to do more against China, particularly in the area of ​​electronic security.

“Biden is more likely to challenge Europe because – unlike Trump – he wants to confront China with the EU in a coordinated manner,” said Nils Schmid, Foreign Minister of the German Social Democrats.

For all these reasons, many in Europe believe that the EU should not take rapid improvement in US relations for granted. The priority should be to continue on the path of gradually reducing dependence on America.

“The EU still needs to strengthen its strategic autonomy,” said McAllister. “That means we have to find out how we can defend our interests and values ​​in the world. . . how we can become more independent. ”

A ray of hope for the European political establishment is the impact of Trump’s defeat on the continent’s populists like the Italian Matteo Salvini.

Mr Salvini, who remains one of Italy’s most popular politicians, has loudly supported Mr Trump. The election defeat “is a setback for the populist political strategy that Salvini wanted to embody,” said Gianluca Passarelli, professor of political science at the Sapienza University in Rome.

“The most immediate consequence is some form of isolation for Salvini and other populists who have joined a lost political line at this historic stage,” added Passarelli.

After the result was announced, former President of the European Council Donald Tusk tweeted: “Trump’s defeat may mark the beginning of the end of the triumph of right-wing populism in Europe too. Thanks, Joe. ”

Still others were less confident that the specter of populism would now be banned from European and US politics for good.

“Trump was defeated, but Trumpism outlives Trump,” said the senior European official. “This is the important lesson from this election: This type of nationalism will not go away.”

Additional coverage from Victor Mallet, Davide Ghiglione and Arthur Beesley.

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