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The reaction to the election of Joe Biden as President of the US is similar to the reaction to president Obama twelve years ago, we have a friend in the White House again and everything will be fine, Pax Americana will be restored and our trade will flourish. Although the first signs of the new Biden administration are certainly encouraging, unbridled optimism on the European side is not warranted.

In the first place, four years of President Trump is not that easily erased. 74 Million people voted for Trump, the most ever for a sitting President. Trumpism is not dead and will influence American policy for many years to come.

Covid19, a divided country and the economy in shambles, will force President Biden in his first year to turn all attention to solving the crisis back home and leave little space for foreign policy

Henne  Schuwer, Director of CPDS Europe

Solving American problems might even happen at the expense of the relations with third countries. One of the first executive orders the new President signed was an order to strengthen buy American provisions. This was not exactly what European manufacturers had hoped for, but a highly anticipated gesture aimed at the Democratic base.

Positive, of course, is the return of the US to the world of rules-based international relations. The US return to the Paris Climate agreement will give a substantial boost to reaching the global goals for emission reduction. Returning to the WHO, the UN Human Rights council and various other UN bodies, will not only strengthen those organizations, but also signals US re-engagement. As President Biden said in his first foreign policy speech “America’s alliance are our greatest asset” and that is good news for the democracies of this world and also especially NATO, where America’s commitment to article 5 of the Washington Treaty was sometimes doubted.

Transatlantic trade relations will be a more unpredictable subject. Biden has to pay attention to his own party, where the left wing is certainly not in favor of too much attention for international trade agreements. At present there are a number of trade conflicts between the EU and the US, which should be resolved urgently, like the US tariffs on steel and aluminum and the conflict about state-aid to Boeing and Airbus. The larger problem however are the relations with China, where the US has adopted a tough line, while the EU, and especially Germany and France, seems to think that a policy of equidistance is possible. If we don’t find a common position towards China, our differences of opinion might translate into serious trade restrictions. 

So, we should not take for granted a new reset of transatlantic relations, but engage as quickly as possible with the new Biden administration, who, undoubtedly, are EU friendly, but whose bottom line is, as it should be, the interest of America as Biden sees it and that might not always converge with ours.

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