Lay off. To turn off. Restart. After four years of cooling off in transatlantic relations, the EU feared the final blackout in the event of the re-election of Donald Trump as US president. But the electoral victory of Joseph Biden and his foreseeable appointment as 46th US president offers the European Union the opportunity to hit the reset button to try to forge transatlantic ties according to the global scenario of the 21st century.
Congratulations to Biden have been rushed this Saturday from Brussels and the main European capitals as soon as the victory of the Democratic candidate is confirmed. "The EU is ready to commit to a strong transatlantic relationship", said the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. Sources from the Presidency of the Council indicate that "during the last weeks we have been preparing ourselves for the various possible scenarios and to coordinate with all the Member States".
This same Saturday, Michel contacted the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other European leaders, to agree on the moment when they would react to the outcome of the elections in the US. "It was agreed that at 7:00 p.m. in Europe the president-elect and his vice-president-elect would be congratulated after the results were known in Pennsylvania and that respect would be shown for the electoral process ”, they point out in Michel's surroundings.
Merkel stressed that "our transatlantic friendship is irreplaceable if we want to overcome the great challenges of our era." "Let us work together", asked French President Emmanuel Macron. “We have a lot to do to overcome the challenges of today,” added Macron. The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, sent a congratulatory message to Biden and his vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, on Saturday. In a message on his official Twitter profile, the Spanish chief executive wished the new North American Administration "luck" and has shown himself to be "prepared" to cooperate with the United States and face "together" the great global challenges.
Only some of Trump's most devoted European partners, such as the conservative Prime Minister of Slovenia Janez Jansa, have cast doubt on Biden's victory as pending possible legal litigation. Consternation also reigns among the eurosceptic and far-right parties, which had an unquestionable reference in the 45th president of the United States. "Trump seems to have lost but the dubious conditions of the election and the bias of the media in favor of Biden mean that he has not won," lamented MEP Gilbert Collar, from the National Regrouping (Marine Le Pen's party), adding to the conspiracy theories of the outgoing Republican president.
But relief at the end of a mandate that put the relationship with Europe and the NATO military alliance in doubt is the dominant note in almost all EU capitals and among the main political groups. "Excellent news is coming from the US," Manfred Weber, leader of the popular group in the European Parliament, said this Saturday, as soon as Trump's defeat was announced. The leader of the largest European political family believes that "the transatlantic relationship needs a restart."
There is a feeling in Brussels that Trump's mandate has marked some irreversible changes and that the US will continue to loosen ties with the Old Continent to focus on its growing confrontation with China. But the community club takes it for granted that Washington's hostility will end with the Biden Administration.
And the EU hopes to count on the new president for a closed defense of democratic values and the principles of the rule of law that for decades have been the hallmarks of the West. Those values and principles are now being questioned inside and outside of that bloc, as shown by Trump's resistance to accept defeat in the November 3 elections or the illiberal and undemocratic drift in EU partners, such as Hungary or Poland, or in neuralgic neighbors like Turkey.
Biden's team, according to the US media, has avoided during the electoral race maintaining contacts with the main international leaders to prevent Trump from exploiting those relations against them. But the future president has taken care to detail a good part of his international program in articles and speeches, which has sent clear signals to Brussels and the rest of the European capitals.
Biden plans to return to the Paris Agreement on combating climate change, abandoned by Trump. And reaffirm the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a "crucial" element for the defense of the Western bloc in general and the Old Continent in particular. "I know that Biden is a great supporter of our alliance and I look forward to working closely with him," said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The 46th president, however, also intends to continue the US withdrawal from the hottest scenarios and far from its own territory, which will force the European partners to redouble their involvement in conflicts such as those in the Middle East or the western Mediterranean.
Biden has also made no secret of his intention to recruit Europe for his political and commercial battle with Beijing, in which Brussels has so far been deliberately neutral. "By joining our strength with other democracies, our strength almost doubles," said the Democratic candidate in the article published in Foreign affairs where he detailed his international agenda for the next four years.
The future tenant of the White House has also announced the convening in the first months of his mandate of an international summit of democracies, a forum that aims to turn into the political and diplomatic bastion against the advance of alternative models such as those promoted by Moscow or Beijing.
Biden's democratic offensive will coincide with the measures that the EU is putting in place to defend its fundamental values and respect for the rule of law among community partners. The relief in Washington also leaves governments with greater populist or authoritarian temptations, such as those of Hungary or Poland, without a powerful ally. "Trump's departure may also be the beginning of the end of the rise of extreme right-wing populisms in Europe," said Pole Donald Tusk, president of the European People's Party and declared enemy of his compatriot Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
But Biden's pro-democracy initiative could also trigger an internal problem in the EU and in the European People's Party itself. Biden has referred to the index prepared by the Freedom House organization as a reference for the countries that are considered democracies and, therefore, possible candidates to participate in the international summit of democracies. That index classifies Hungary only as "partially free," a label shared with countries like Morocco, Ukraine or Zimbabwe. The tolerance of the EU with Hungary and the EPP with Orbán, who is still a member of the European Conservative Party, will be more difficult to justify with Biden in the White House.