President-elect Joe Biden will be installed as the 46th President of the United States in January. While many within the European Union welcomed the election of the moderate Democrat after four hostile years with Donald Trump, Biden’s election might also cause a new divide.
While many commentators will point out Biden’s sympathy for the European project and his opposition to the upcoming Brexit, some believe he might actually cause division amongst the major players in the EU. Whilst it is unlikely that the president-elect will continue the trade war with the EU that president Trump started back in 2018, Biden’s sympathy for the Eu might hinder the path to the EU’s “strategic autonomy”. In November the German minister of Defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Europe could not provide for its own security and would probably remain dependent on the United States for decades. French President Emmanuel Macron has strongly opposed this view and was supposedly left “rattled” by Kramp-Karrenbauer’s claims.
Insiders of Macron’s inner circle suggested that the French president silently applauded president Trump’s hostile position and critique towards the EU-members, especially Germany for not spending enough on their defences. In his aim for a strong Europe led by German and France, Trump threats to withdraw from NATO actually sparked a series of steps towards EU defence and foreign policy initiatives to create “strategic autonomy”. Trumps critique towards of not spending enough on defence, which started in a more gentle manner under his predecessor Obama, will probably remain under the Biden administration. However, the president-elect is expected to take a milder approach. Although this might be beneficial for the economic relationship between the United Stated and the EU, the pace towards a more united European Union might slow down. This is also likely to impact not only the spending on the EU’s armed forces, but also the process of further harmonization.
Whilst a lot might thus depend on the approach of the Biden administration, even more might depend on who will become the (new) leaders of Germany and France. Both countries are holding national elections in 2021, and whilst Angela Merkel’s withdrawal from office is certain, Macron’s re-election is still highly uncertain. 2021 thus will prove a key year for not only the US-EU relationship, but also for the faith of the European Union and its use of “hard power”.