Donald Trump changed America – not as much as his supporters wanted, but more than his critics predicted. But the United States isn’t the only country that has changed in the past four years. While current President Joe Biden struggles to assure his allies that the United States he remembers “is back”, others have continued to change.
It makes it impossible to go back to the way things were before. This applies in particular to the transatlantic relationship: the unique relationship that previously existed between the United States and Europe will not return, not even with Biden in the presidency. And it’s not just due to Trump.
The first reason US-EU relations will not revert to their predecessor predates Trump’s arrival at the White House: it was the Brexit referendum.
For decades, the UK was the US’s first stop in dealing with Europe. Although it sometimes takes a stand against the prevailing winds in the European Union, London has played the role of a reliable and effective defender of American interests in the European bloc.
The US now needs to invest more time and energy in its dealings with politicians and EU institutions, without giving the impression that it pays little attention to the UK – because the ties of Anglo-American defense and intelligence are still valuable enough to merit Washington’s special. Warning.
After all, it’s the UK that most shares the US perspective on geopolitical issues like Russia and China (more on that later).
On the other hand, the Biden administration shares the EU’s (and Ireland’s) assessment of the challenges Brexit has brought to Northern Ireland. Brexit will make it much more difficult for the White House to manage relations with the UK and the European Union, especially as the UK and the EU will continue to disagree for the foreseeable future.
The second dividing line between the United States and Europe is formed by the broader values that underlie public policy choices. When it comes to economic matters, the Trump era has led American politicians to realize that they need to take more responsibility for the country’s internal problems.
For Democrats, that means more aid to American workers and more industrial subsidies. This may sound more familiar in Europe, but that won’t stop Brussels from defending its single market against what it sees as unfair competitive advantages.
Add to that the EU’s particular approach to 21st century issues such as climate change and digital services, and we have a very high probability that new tariffs, new regulations or both will be imposed on trade between the United States and the EU.
Add to this the different approaches taken on issues such as data privacy, the social contract and freedom of expression, and it becomes difficult to align the “common values” previously shared by the United States and Europe. .
But the most critical division concerns geopolitics and the perception of who is an ally and who is an enemy. The transatlantic relationship was strongest during the Cold War, when the Soviets represented a common enemy on which the United States and Europe could focus.
Today, some Europeans want closer relations with Moscow, which they consider to be an essential energy partner; others want to repudiate Russia because of the aggressive actions of Vladimir Putin abroad and the human rights violations committed in their country.
But the real problem that divides the United States and Europe is China.
The United States sees China as its main rival, both in economic and national security (including technology). Europe may view China as a threat to national security, but it hopes to cooperate economically with Beijing in areas of mutual interest, as shown by the comprehensive investment agreement signed by the EU and China in December. .
It is difficult to cooperate closely when the two sides cannot even agree on who their friends and foes are. And, without an external threat of uniting them, transatlantic relations become more relaxed.
European leaders are happy to see a more traditional president like Biden return to the White House. But relief from Trump’s departure is not the basis for a strong relationship.
The transatlantic alliance is in decline, and with it, the Western-led world order. The sooner both sides understand this, the sooner they can begin to erect the new architecture necessary for a stronger and more lasting relationship.
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