There is no mystery about what result Europe would prefer on November 3. No American president has been able to unite European leaders and people against him as much as Donald Trump. What does the European Union expect from Joe Biden? America will not exactly return to 2016. The world has changed, and not just because of Trump.
Stability and predictability are the first things Europe aspires to, following the erratic Trump era. Europe will be faced with the dilemma to reinvest in the Euro-Atlantic partnership or build greater “strategic autonomy” from the US. The answer will also depend on the degree of trust that a Biden administration will manage to restore.
Europe will remain a trade competitor for the US – but not a “foe,” as branded by Trump. Europe could once again become a close partner of the US, in a relationship based on shared values. A Biden presidency would hasten to reaffirm the US commitment to the Euro-Atlantic alliance, while insisting on the 2% defense spending target.
Under a Biden administration, the United States will affirm a leading role in the multilateral institutions of the United Nations, return to the World Health Organization (WHO) and reactivate the World Trade Organization (WTO) while pursuing its reform in the context of the new polarization with China. A Biden administration will bring the United States back to the Paris Agreement on global climate change, the treaties on international disarmament, and most likely the Iran nuclear deal, in whose negotiation the EU, jointly with the Obama administration, played a key role.
No further liberalization of transatlantic trade is expected, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being irrevocably dead. But neither is an escalation of Trump’s aggressive protectionism likely, which created an unfavorable environment for a European Union used to operating within a global rules-based system of open trade.
The Euro-Atlantic relationship will not be without tensions. For example, the EU’s attempt to tax US technology companies (GAFA) will be resisted by Washington. But a Biden administration program (especially if the Democrats win the Senate) to raise taxes on high incomes and boost social and environmental spending will bring the US closer to Europe.
A Trump re-election would irreversibly deepen the transatlantic rift and further erode the global multilateral system. Trump was the first US president to welcome EU disintegration by openly supporting Brexit. (With a strong dislike for Trump, British public opinion has not returned the favor.) A second Trump presidency would be even more unhinged. It would also elevate aggressive nationalist demagoguery into a successful playbook for winning elections. Trump copycats would emerge within European countries. A Trump re-election would put the wind in the sails of Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and co, as well as Viktor Orban, Trump’s key European supporter.
George Pagoulatos is a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business and director general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).