Indeed, for most of Trump’s time in the White House, European officials admitted that the election of an anti-European in the United States was a wake-up call to them after decades of assuming that the America would always have their best interests at heart.
The conclusion many came to in Brussels was that if someone friendlier followed Trump, the transatlantic alliance needed to be refreshed and strengthened in a way that could not be broken by a possible Trump 2.0 later. However, they also agreed that this should be done alongside the EU pursuing its own geopolitical goals to ensure its independence from the United States, including building its own defense capabilities and trading with it. countries like China and Russia in a way that was politically unthinkable to the United States.
In a speech at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, the Commander-in-Chief of the World’s Most Advanced Army said: “We must prove to the world and to our own people that democracy can still prevail in the face of the challenges of our time and deliver for the needs of our people. “
European diplomats said there was a new realization that the United States and other countries could once again witness the rise of populist movements that would hamper international cooperation and, in some places, undermine democracy – and this fueled a desire to strike a deal and create “some” progress.
“We saw what happened with the US elections, we know that can happen in our democracies too, unfortunately this is something that sort of happened in the UK with Johnson and the Brexit. This is something that happened in France with the Jaune Vestes, “said a European diplomat, referring to populist movements in Europe.” We know that in two years, four years, it can be a bit completely different. That’s why we are working together now to move as fast as possible to build irreversible things. ”
Despite a flurry of efforts in some US states to roll back democratic participation, European observers said they believed Biden’s call for democratic and shared values, and his promise that the United States was “back. “was the main purpose of his trip. Highlighting Biden’s five different commitments during the week – meetings in the UK, the G7, meetings with the EU and NATO, then the summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin – a second European diplomat said the United States had carefully constructed the week to deliver and underline this message. “All [the events] carefully built on top of each other to send the same message: The United States is back, the United States is back in the fold of democracies, and they are committed to leading them. “
Highlighting Biden’s five different commitments during the week – meetings in the UK, the G7, meetings with the EU and NATO, then the summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin – a second European diplomat said , “All carefully built upon each other to send the same message: The United States is back, the United States is back in the fold of democracies, and they are committed to leading them.” “
This kind of pro-Western, pro-democracy rhetoric is absolute catnip for European leaders, many of whom like to believe they are the closest ally to the most powerful nation in the world. And the fact that Biden invites Europeans to rebuild democratic order with the United States is an appealing prospect.
But only a fool would ignore the fact that, despite the best of intentions, the political stability of Europe and the United States is far from certain beyond the next 18 months.
The reasons for this are national electoral policies, such as the midterms in America, as well as the French, German and Northern Irish elections, to the dramatic differences in political priorities on both sides of the ocean.
Despite all the friendly words and commitments to work together, there remains a major question mark over how the renewed alliance interacts with current politics. “The table is set, the cooking has started, but none of us know what it’s going to taste like,” said Tyson Barker, a former State Department official under Barack Obama.
The Biden administration “has already agreed that the two sides will have different approaches to China,” Barker said, adding that the unknown at the moment is what the White House does if the EU continues. to deepen its economic ties with Beijing.
“It is not implausible, given the US sentiment towards China, that this will affect the willingness of US officials to work with Europeans on key future technologies such as artificial intelligence, given US concerns. regarding China’s record on intellectual property theft and security concerns. “
Brexit continues to divide
Another issue plaguing Europe that is likely to spiral out of control very soon is the post-Brexit dispute over Northern Ireland – which Biden has personally commented on more than once.
In short: As part of the UK’s Brexit deal with the EU, Johnson agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Johnson’s government is currently refusing to fully implement the protocol over fears it could lead to food shortages, including chilled meats, in Northern Ireland due to the new trade relationship between the UK and the ‘EU.
Biden, who speaks often of his Irish heritage, is said to have told Johnson in a “frank conversation” that the issue must be resolved. The EU – which believes anything other than full implementation of the protocol is a violation of international law – has hinted that Biden supports his position.
However, as Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London, points out: “We only know that he wants the problems resolved. There is no indication that he holds the UK primarily responsible; we don’t know if he thinks the EU is a little more valuable than cold meat. “
If Biden publicly picks a favorite in the latest Brexit brawl, the consequences for the losing side could be severe. For the UK, this could imply that the most powerful country in the world saw it as an unreliable law breaker; for the EU, it would be a public attack on the legal infrastructure that holds the bloc together. Either outcome would have an immediate and damaging effect on the renewed alliance and make the progress that all sides want much more difficult to achieve.
Reviewing the areas where the United States and Europe have differences, a third European diplomat said: “The idea was not to solve all the problems in a week. … It was to lay the groundwork and the technical work that needs to be done. to sit at the table and address issues in a cooperative, not confrontational, approach that keeps things moving. “
While no one doubts that the spirit of cooperation and renewal displayed between Biden and his allies this week was sincere, the deadline for meaningful and lasting change is tight.
“The window of opportunity to show that America is back is small, with the United States halfway through next November,” said Georgina Wright, European policy expert at the Institut Montaigne in Paris.
Steven Blockmans, acting director of the Center for European Policy Studies, agrees words are sincere, but action could be difficult.
“Whether the jet-set revival tour will represent more than just a sugar rush for transatlantic relations depends on the West’s ability to translate the summit’s conclusions into concrete initiatives,” a- he said, adding that “Europeans will need time to gain confidence in the health of America’s democracy and that America is not only back, but here to stay.”
For now, European officials are thrilled with what they perceive to be a love bombardment from Biden. A senior EU official told CNN that “the United States is returning to a leading force, as we fill the void left by Trump.” Contrary to the idea that there were major differences of opinion over a broader foreign policy, Biden had actually moved closer to the EU position, the official boasted.
Brussels officials have long dreamed of claiming the status of world economic power. With an ally to Biden, rather than an opponent to Trump, they now have the opportunity to step up and take their first place alongside the United States.
“The pressure on Brussels is enormous,” says Wright. “If they sincerely want to be a major geopolitical power that is not subservient to America, the 27 member states will need to be more united than ever.”
Ah, disunity – that constant thorn in the EU side. Some member states openly violate EU law while others go through political transitions that could make foreign policy solidarity across the bloc impossible.
If Germany elects a Green-led government later this year, the bloc’s largest economy will become hawkish on trade with China; if the far right wins in France in 2022, the appeasement of Russia becomes more likely in the main European military power.
And if Irish nationalists are successful in the upcoming Northern Ireland election, it will drag Brussels into the seventh year of its Brexit hell, as the thorniest issue of all – Northern Ireland’s unique status and its precise relationship to the The EU and the UK – – remain as volatile and potentially dangerous as ever.
While Biden’s trip to Europe delighted his hosts, the reality is that Trump had set the bar so low after his previous trips, his predecessor was able to get away with sunglasses to meet Queen Elizabeth of Great- Brittany and discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Europeans see Biden as a leader who at least shares their core values and who, following Trump, has earned him enormous goodwill. However, it is impossible to forget the past four years.
Despite all the warm words and sincere affection for the United States, European leaders know that the relationship forged in the aftermath of World War II is gone and that something new must take its place. And, frankly, in the long run, that will likely mean keeping Washington at bay on many key issues.