Trans-Atlantic Love: The EU and United States

Gabriel Coffey, Managing Forum Editor

A good relationship is a balanced one, where the question of sides dissolves into mutual benefit. And yet, this is rarely how diplomacy works; it is a kind of game of domestic interests placated by international ideals. This love of country,  this love of autonomy, has become a mainstay in European Union (EU) foreign policy with respect to the U.S. — if you had seen the EU’s ex, you would understand their desire for an open relationship. 

Thus, it isn’t enough for President Joe Biden to simply “not be Trump.” The EU has made it clear that they don’t see Donald Trump’s election back in 2016 as an isolated event, and for good reason (I need not mention the capitol riots, the record votes for Trump, and increasing polarization). 

Thus, Biden needs to do more, for the issues that define current EU/U.S. relations have not faded with Trump’s departure. On key fronts, like EU cooperation with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) initiatives (such as spending 2% of GDP on defense) haven’t seen any dramatic shifts. If today you were to suppose that trade deals between the bloc and U.S. could be fleshed out, then your mind would in fact be living in a pre-Trumpian time. With an economic bloc of nearly 450 million wealthy consumers, the EU has all the economic gravitas needed to break away from the U.S., who, like it or not, will be forced to center their attention inward whether or not such action comes with an “America First” tagline. 

In light of the EU’s recent trade deal with China, signaling a move away from relying on the U.S., divorce appears plausible. Furthermore, the common political fronts often shared between the EU and U.S. have slowly deteriorated. On matters such as countering Russian aggression, we see that the EU can’t even come to a regional conclusion on what to do, let alone what to do in conjunction with the US. The two regions even diverge on climate measures, with America’s Climate Envoy Chief John Kerry suggesting carbon taxes to be a “last resort.”

Despite these lingering issues, the bloc has begun to see its economic prowess fade in the global market. Given this deterioration of economic clout, and so long as the dollar remains the international reserve currency, the EU will continue to be inextricably bound in at least some ways to U.S markets for years to come. Even the centrist tendencies of Europe will be under fire in the upcoming French presidential election; one which has forced Emmanuel Macron to shift the right so as to dissuade his voters from Marie La Penn’s hard-right populism. Unlike cold-war era politics, the EU and U.S want different things, and in comparison to the U.S., the EU has less of populist paralysis; certainly not a kind that threatens the world order like the Trump brand populism in the U.S.

Once forced to accept American defense, and thus the economic stipulations that came along with it, the EU has now taken a different tone with Russian aggression and a burgeoning China. Without a common enemy, the only thing that binds the U.S. and EU is a common friend in their structural foundations. Economic liberalism and democracy are mainstays of both sides, and yet democracy and capitalism are no longer seen as necessary exports given the fall of the Soviet Union. 

But, if the EU is to fully separate itself from the international order that the U.S offers, then they are sure to find themselves without any genuine allies. This is to say that the blocs’ partners maintain a closer relationship with Washington than they do with Brussels. This leaves the EU in the hands of either Russia or China, and thus in the hands of a disingenuous suitor. Given the history between the two countries, one can see Biden’s aspirations as expensive and potentially polarizing, or genuine and mutual. No doubt, the U.S. and EU must forge their own paths, something they’ve struggled to do in the 30 years since the end of the Cold War, but if the two groups are to forge ahead at all, they will need to start meeting new people. As of the moment, that looks, unlikely.