Joe Biden enters office eager to redefine America’s relations with Europe. After four years of foreign policy under President Trump that was more protectionist and hostile to America’s closest allies in Europe than any prior administration in years, President Biden has begun his presidency looking to swiftly reverse course. However, due to changing global politics and the deep damage to faith in the US’ dependability under Trump, Europe appears increasingly inclined to chart its own foreign policy independent of the US.
The harsh criticism from the Trump administration directed towards NATO and the European Union, both pillars of European security and its economy, did considerable damage to Europe’s trust in the US as a reliable partner in both areas. President Biden and his new state department leadership are strong supporters of both the EU and NATO, but it remains to be seen how much this support, alone, will improve relations between Europe and the US during the Biden presidency.
One of the greatest projected areas of disagreement between Europe and the US during the Biden administration is that of a unified policy towards China. The US considers China to be a major geopolitical rival whose security policy and economic influence should be countered.
While America’s European allies share America’s concern for various Chinese economic practices, such as currency manipulation and industrial subsidizing, they have demonstrated greater willingness than the US desire to harmoniously engage with the Asian country. For instance, the EU’s December decision to finalize a major investment partnership with China, despite Biden officials urging European negotiators to hold back until Biden took power, reflects European resolve to diverge from American policy towards China.
Moreover, despite president Biden’s adamant support for NATO, European allies have shown an increasing willingness to part from the US over security policy. There is broad agreement across the Atlantic that the US remains a vital ally and guarantor of security among its European allies. However, a rising number of European leaders now assert that European NATO members should continue enhancing their own military capabilities to become less dependent on the US for their security, due to rising perceptions of the US’s unreliability as a military partner.
European leaders are also mindful of the domestic challenges that the Biden administration faces and how they could impede his foreign policy ambitions. With a pandemic ravaging the US economy and gaping fissures in the US’ democracy exposed by the January 6th storming of the US Capitol, European leaders have made clear that they will not wait for Biden to overcome his domestic political hurdles to advance their desired foreign policies.
Despite the imposing difficulties of recuperating relations between Europe and the US from the Trump administration, President Biden has moved quickly to begin those repairs. For instance, by re-committing the US to its Paris climate agreements, he has brought the US in line with broad European interest in combating the global climate crisis. As the Biden administration progresses, the completion of additional measures that reinforce European trust in America’s role as a responsible partner that supports European foreign interests and values will be a key priority of the administration.