Joe Biden and EU on collision course as ‘Brussels set to be disappointed on major areas’

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Former US President Donald Trump was deeply unpopular among European Union leaders. Among those who disapproved were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has never attempted to hide her dislike of the ex-President. Back in 2016, Mrs Merkel greeted Mr Trump’s victory with an extraordinary warning: that she would work with the US President on the condition that he respect democratic values.

Things did not improve from there.

The transatlantic relationship deteriorated significantly after Mr Trump’s arrival at the White House in 2017, with disagreements over international trade, defence and technology.

European officials have also struggled with his direct style and use of Twitter.

Now Democrat Mr Biden has moved into the Oval Office, many are expecting things to go back to how they were before the American firebrand burst onto the scene.

However, in a recent report, the head of Oxford-based think-tank Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Munchau, explained why Brussels and Mr Biden are set on a collision course.

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Mr Munchau wrote: “Superficially, we will note that the tone will improve, on Twitter naturally, but also in bilateral meetings.

“But on almost all of the substantive disagreements, Europeans are about to discover that their problems are with the US as a country, and with the Democratic Party in particular.

“Norbert Röttgen, the German politician who came third in the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) leadership race but who remains as chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, said he expected US opposition to Nordstream 2 to intensify. So do we. We cannot think of any project right now more disastrous for transatlantic relations than a pipeline that makes the EU dependent on Russian gas.”

Moreover, Mr Munchau wrote how Anthony Blinken, Mr Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, told the Senate’s foreign relations committee that Mr Trump was right in taking a tougher approach towards China.

He added: “The disagreement is about details, not principle. We expect to hear a lot more of that in other foreign policy areas too. Europeans will discover that as far as they are concerned, the Biden administration is not going to be as much of a break from the Trump era as they had hoped.

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“And we also know from the days when Biden was Vice-President, that he, more than Barack Obama, pushed the Europeans to implement their NATO defence spending promises.”

Mr Munchau concluded that after seeing the reactions in Europe to Mr Biden’s inauguration, EuroIntelligence “got a sense that a lot of people over here are likely to end up disappointed”.

He noted: “During the Trump years, Europeans dared at least discuss strategic autonomy -– a notion many European politicians are deeply uncomfortable with because it would entail not only higher defence spending, but also shifts in the way we organise our command structures and defence industry supply chains.

“We consider the European yearning for a return of transatlantic relations as an addiction problem. Yesterday was the day when Europe hallucinated about a non-existent bottle.”

Mr Munchau’s comments have been echoed by several EU politicians in the last few months.

German centre-right MEP David McAllister also believes Mr Biden will continue to make demands on EU nations to spend more on defence to keep NATO together, but will “probably only present them differently in tone and style”.

David O’Sullivan, the former EU ambassador to the US, told the EU Observer: “I’m certain that the Biden administration will not just sign up to the agreement [on Iranian nuclear non-proliferation] that Trump walked out of, but would call for extra restrictions on Iranian missile programmes and terrorist sponsorship.”

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On trade, German centre-left MEP Bernd Lange added: “I am convinced that we can achieve, here and there, some trade-facilitation measures, but there won’t be a comprehensive agreement like the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal negotiated before Trump came to power, due to strong competitive differences.”

EU politicians are also aware that Mr Biden is to inherit a politically and socially divided US, which is therefore going to prevent him from conducting the same kind of foreign policy as in the pre-Trump era.

Faced with an economy battered by coronavirus, Mr Biden will probably eschew Mr Trump’s more protectionist tendencies but some sort of “America First” vision for sensitive industries is likely to live on.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “There is no return to the good old times due to America’s internal crisis.”

Mr O’Sullivan added: “He [Biden] will struggle to impose his agenda.

“This is going to lead to a very introverted America focusing very much on domestic politics and domestic concerns.”

EU Justice Commission Didier Reynders told Belgian radio: “We have heard the groundswell of opinion polls, of the media, especially in Europe, announcing the end [of Trump’s politics], with a very large gap in favour of Joe Biden.

“But, I think, you have to be aware of the situation in the United States, which is very divided geographically.

“From now on, we must look at how Europe can work with emerging powers that are difficult to manage such as Russia, China, or India.

“This is probably a role that the EU should take on: promoting multilateralism in the face of an American retreat.”

Bruce Stokes, an associate fellow at Chatham House, a British think-tank, told the Local Deutsche: “Europeans have to understand that a Biden administration is going to be so domestically preoccupied.”

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