Saturday

25th Sep 2021

Opinion

Biden presidency no quick fix, just chance for EU to fix itself

  • 'The scary thing about this election is, if Trump had had even a minimum of political professionalism, if he had even tried to live up to the promises to the people who voted him into office, he might well have won' (Photo: The White House)

And so, democracy lives to fight another day. Good. I'm as relieved as anyone.

But once the dust has settled, relief needs to make way for reflection. Because there is a lot of fighting still to be done.

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  • On the international stage, Biden has launched the idea of rallying the world's democracies around common threats and values, rightly arguing that domestic and foreign policies are entwined more than ever (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The worst that can happen for the European Union is that the outcome of the US election allows us to slip back into that state of apathy, complacency and resignation that has characterised us for too long.

A Biden presidency is in itself not a quick fix to Europe's problems. It just buys us more time to fix them ourselves.

Perhaps more than any of his predecessors, president Joe Biden naturally has an eye on Europe. He takes pride in his Irish heritage, and his background in security and defence issues does the rest.

But he doesn't always like what he sees: crisis after crisis, Europe has gained a reputation for doing too little, too late.

Any American president will need—no: will demand us to do better. Especially president Biden.

Because much of the time he will be preoccupied with reuniting his country, and the world holds other threats that demand his attention too.

In the American world view, Europe features only if it is part of the solution to their problems. Can you blame them?

Time then for Europe to prove itself as a true ally, not a liability—a source of strength instead of potential instability.

On trade, that means offering a way to move from conflict towards a more constructive relationship that serves the interest of the real economy of both partners. This is where Trump notably failed his own core constituency, hence the area where Biden has a lot to gain.

On the international stage, Biden has launched the idea of rallying the world's democracies around common threats and values, rightly arguing that domestic and foreign policies are entwined more than ever.

The EU should take up the challenge, and show that we are stronger together when forcing China to play by the rules or countering Russia when it blatantly breaks them, when writing new rules for tech giants, against tax avoidance or to boost the carbon transition.

The same goes for multilateralism: we need to reconfirm the rule of international law and the wisdom behind international organisations such as the UN, the World Health Organziation and the World Trade Organization.

A lot of damage has been done, and it will take a combined effort to restore them to anywhere near the strength they need to serve the global public interest.

Make no mistake: all this will happen only on the basis of European strength. The idea that Europe can hide behind the US's back was fanciful even before Trump came, and even with Biden in the chair it is false.

There is only a transatlantic partnership if Europe is big enough to be a partner. That implies us making an unprecedented move forward on security and defence, so that our presence in the region and in Africa is more solid, and our actions in Nato are backed up with real engagement.

There is an understandable but nevertheless dangerous degree of condescension over the talk of 'strategic autonomy' in Brussels.

The Biden administration will look at Ukraine, Belarus, North Africa and Turkey and, if necessary, tell us exactly what that means. It's best we find out for ourselves before they need to do so.

Fellow travellers

The scary thing about this election is, if Trump had had even a minimum of political professionalism, if he had even tried to live up to the promises to the people who voted him into office, he might well have won.

And liberal democracy, Western power, and European integration would have been dealt a possibly lethal blow.

He remains a tool for what you could call the 'nihilist international': a global network of anti-democratic forces who use fear and paranoia as a smokescreen for their personal power and corrupt interests to hide behind.

It is an idea which carries plenty of fellow travellers with it, from Russia to Saudi Arabia, but also in Europe.

The Estonian government has already been rocked because of it. Slovenia's prime minister Janez Janša has spent the whole week boosting obscure twitter messages of alleged voter fraud.

And Hungary's Viktor Orban unabashedly sees Trump as his 'Plan A', knowing full well that his autocratic cronyism is everything Biden is against.

Europe has a choice to make, not only on how we see the EU's global role but also on what it stands for. The interaction between internal politics and international policies was always at the heart of Europe.

The values and methods of European integration are fundamental: democracy and the rule of law, the open society and cross-border cooperation. We must relearn to apply them more firmly, and promote them more convincingly.

So the Biden presidency heralds a new era for the EU as well, whether we like it or not. Some of Trump's fellow travellers will fall into the latter category. Good. Let them. The fight for democracy continues.

Author bio

Guy Verhofstadt is Renew Europe MEP and former prime minister of Belgium.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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