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The Biden era: What can Europe expect from America’s new President? | Europp – LSE Blog

Featured image credit: Adam Schultz / Biden for President (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

With the election of Joe Biden as the next President of the United States, the transatlantic relationship is set to enter a new era. Effie G. H. Pedaliu examines what Biden’s presidency will mean for the EU and the post-Brexit UK.

What can the EU expect realistically from a Biden presidency? An awful lot really. At a minimum, decorum, civility and predictability in a world of growing uncertainty. Anything more than this will depend, ultimately, on Europe. It can no longer expect the US to act as a deus ex machina to cure its woes.

The EU’s wish list when it comes to a Biden administration is on the long side. The transatlantic relationship is not only about NATO, but also about economics. The combined size of the US and EU economies shape the global economy. Therefore, the first thing the EU needs from the US is to re-energise the global system from its ‘creeping paralysis’. Equally important is for the US to retract President Trump’s thinly disguised threat in July 2018 to pull the United States out of NATO – the cornerstone of European defence – and to reengage fully. Furthermore, the EU would like to see more American involvement at its eastern border and the MENA region and a lowering of tensions in Sino-American relations.

Biden’s priorities are to unite his politically polarised society by reducing social and racial divisions in America, to restore its people’s trust in democratic institutions, to tackle the pernicious advance of Covid-19 robustly and rebuild the American economy. At the same time, he will wish to restore multilateralism, continue to withstand the challenges posed by the relentless rise of China and confront Russian provocations. Biden will also seek to resolve the conundrum of finding a golden mean for climate change, energy security and economic growth as well as expanding international trade.

A known quantity

What the EU, the UK and NATO are getting in Biden is somebody who has been a known quantity over the last 47 years. Foreign policy is in his blood. He understands how diplomacy works, knows how to work across ideological lines and recognises that security and economic growth are more easily achieved through international collaboration. His long stints in the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, as chairman of its NATO Observer Group and its Sub-committee of European Affairs, his opposition to President Reagan’s policy towards Apartheid in South Africa, his support for humanitarian intervention in the Balkan Wars of the early 1990s and his time as President Obama’s Vice President reveal him to be a liberal, a traditionalist and an institutionalist who will seek to work together with other democracies.

Biden gets the transatlantic relationship and the value of allies. He will not hurl gratuitous insults at his NATO allies or describe them as ‘delinquents’ and NATO as an ‘obsolete’ institution. He believes in the values of the West. He realises the importance of European integration and will not launch destructive attacks on the European Union which he rates as ‘an indispensable partner of first resort’. He will not use the UK to harm the EU.

He has high regard for multilateralism, international institutions and the rule of law. Biden is unlikely to ever use the words ‘America First’. He does not define American security and interests as narrowly as his predecessor who approached American defence through a bunker mentality. He is on record as saying that, ‘in exactly 77 days a Biden Administration will rejoin’ the Paris climate agreement. He has promised that ‘if Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the US would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.’ How much of his policy agenda he will be able to fulfil is ultimately down to the composition of the US Senate, which will not be known until 5 January 2021.

In sum, Joe Biden’s election as the 46th President of the United States brings an end to a Trump era based on ‘alternatives facts’ and populism. Donald Trump’s legacy is increased global uncertainty, division and distrust. It has made the world a more dangerous place. Europe and the UK have watched on tenterhooks the playing out of the American democratic process as the global and economic shocks of Covid-19 gather strength. News of the final victory of the Biden/Harris ticket came as a relief to Brussels, EU capitals and probably, even in Brexiting London.

In a Covid-19 plagued era, unpredictability has now lost its strategic gloss even among those who courted it and used it wantonly. What the Trump administration chalked up as foreign policy ‘successes’, namely the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, have been seen from this side of the Atlantic as dangerous liabilities. His courting of chaos, his attraction to ‘strong men’, his disregard for etiquette and his aversion to international cooperation have injured the transatlantic relationship as well as America’s position in the world, and have had a detrimental effect on global cooperation in dealing with the threat from Covid-19.

The need for a strong EU

The turbulence in the international system has put a soft power like the EU under severe stress. Many in Europe hanker for a new golden era in transatlantic relations. But, the reality is that although transatlantic cooperation will be restored, this will still be a difficult time and some strains in the transatlantic relationship may even grow. This is because the EU’s systemic weaknesses and many pressures over a short time have reduced the EU into adopting a policy of appeasement towards all threats and waiting for both Trump and Covid-19 to disappear.

For Biden, the EU is a natural ally, but he needs the EU to be a strong international actor. He needs it to be a reliable ally that does not merely pay lip service to supporting NATO. Biden will want a Europe that pulls its weight on defence and security so that it complements NATO, pays its fair share and does not turn a blind eye to Russian skulduggery because of its energy needs.

Trump demonstrated to Europe the limits of an overreliance on the US, yet the EU has still to become an assertive and confident voice on the world stage. Its efforts in foreign and security policy continue to be diffident and plagued by an inability to speak as one. Its legendary cacophony on foreign policy-making does not originate primarily from its rule demanding unanimity, but from ‘the rule of double standards’, where immediate and short-term economic interests outweigh long-term strategic thinking.

A Biden administration will want to see an EU that forsakes appeasement and stands up to the aggressive revisionism of Russia, Turkey and Iran that destabilise its eastern and southern borders. He will happily partner a purposeful EU but will not act as its border guard.

Biden’s approach to the Middle East is likely to be more circumspect than the EU wishes. He has described Trump’s withdrawal of US military forces from Northern Syria as a ‘complete failure’, a ‘betrayal of [our] brave Kurdish partners’ and ‘taking the boot off the neck of ISIS’; and, above all, as ‘demolishing the moral authority of the United States of America’. However, Biden, too, wishes to ‘end the forever wars’ and Europe will have to find a means of dealing effectively with its troubled neighbourhood. The cavalry is not likely to be dispatched from the other side of the Atlantic any time soon.

A Biden administration will also want the EU to join it in pursuing a more active agenda on human rights and civil liberties with regards to China as well as ‘problematic European states’ such as Hungary and Poland. China may complicate relations between the US and the EU as the President-elect will raise, quite forcefully, the issue of Hong Kong with President Xi and will also expect the EU to adopt a less ‘mild approach’ to China’s economic penetration of European territory.

Flash points and the special relationship

Matters of economic and technological cooperation are likely to be flash points between the EU and the Biden administration. He is unlikely to use the vacuous term ‘America First’ but he, too, will seek a ‘fair deal’. He won the elections primarily by recreating ‘the blue wall’ therefore, he will seek to rectify perceived imbalances in trade between the two blocs especially in agriculture and industry. Biden will expect the EU to act as a partner not a competitor on issues of technology and economic and trade policy. It is quite likely that there will be friction over the aviation industry, AI, 5G and tech in general. There is still scope for close cooperation between the US, the EU and the UK as the Biden administration tries to re-purpose the US economy to overcome Covid-19 and become more competitive against the Chinese. The question then is how far are the EU and UK prepared to go to keep the US happy.

With the UK, the ‘special relationship’ may become thornier than it was even during the Clinton-Major years and this time, disgruntlement will not be mitigated by joint efforts to bring about peace in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it will be the sanctity of the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ itself that may cause tensions. A new trade agreement with the US will not be about the UK having to eat ‘a little bit of humble pie’. It will be about the realities facing the UK in negotiating with an economic giant like the US.

Pleasant, even successful, meetings on international trade in DC rarely mean that an agreement with the US is likely to emerge quickly. As President Obama warned when David Cameron recklessly gambled the economic certainties the UK enjoyed on a Brexit referendum, the UK will have to take its place in a long queue. The Johnson government may have to perform some quick finessing of its foreign and trade policy negotiating stances at an awkward time as the transition period comes to an end. Yet, Biden’s victory may concentrate minds and a ‘deal’ may emerge.

The Biden era

The Biden administration will not seek to ‘Make America Great Again’, but its mission will be to keep America great. For the EU, to capitalise on the opportunities arising from Biden’s presidency, it will have to tidy its messy house, stop ignoring geopolitical truths, discontinue wishful thinking and take the realities underlying its defence seriously.

There are no better words available to President-elect Joe Biden than those of President Abraham Lincoln in his 1861 inaugural address: ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection’. Lincoln’s words address directly the domestic and international challenges Biden faces, namely, a deeply divided American nation and alliances worn down by four years of scorn and petulance.

Finally, no piece on the result of the presidential election of 2020 should end without mention of the profound and historical significance of the election of the first woman and the first woman of colour as Vice President-elect of the United States, Kamala Harris.

Policy Insight | Can dialogues advance EU-China trade relations? | CEPS

The EU pursues its trade agenda with China through a web of economic and sectoral dialogues. We show that these dialogues do matter for wider EU trade policy. After a brief overview of the architecture, we map the trade-related dialogues and identify seven possible functions of them, giving examples of dialogues on public procurement; reforms of state-owned enterprises (SOEs); forced technology transfer; the protection of intellectual property rights; and sustainable forestry and the timber trade.

The assessment seeks to answer four specific questions:

  1. Do dialogues improve market access? Dialogues would seem to have facilitated market access in a variety of ways. The EU has also insisted on reforms in China with a view to easing restrictions that hinder effective market access. For some aspects this seems to have worked, but not for the big issues, for example SOE reforms.
  2. Can the web of dialogues be seen as an ‘unbundled’ free trade agreement (FTA)? The answer is, not really. The trade dialogues do not seem to substitute, even imperfectly, for an FTA.
  3. Can the dialogues stimulate ‘sustainable development’? A recent convergence of EU and Chinese objectives has been extremely helpful for effective bilateral cooperation, on social matters (labour standards and social protection) and the environment & climate. Cooperation on energy, climate strategies and other environmental concerns, following dreadful neglect and indifference in China, are achieving results, such as better (for instance, risk-based) regulation, higher ambitions and more effective enforcement.
  4. Can dialogues reconcile or at least mitigate ‘systemic’ differences? Here, dialogues have not proved very useful in terms of results. From the EU end, addressing systemic differences effectively when the partner country takes pride in enjoying a ‘socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics’ is intrinsically impossible. It is an accomplishment when channels of cooperation are kept open.

Follow this link to download the full publication

Strengthening the EU policy framework for retail investors, by C. Amariei, European Capital Markets Institute (ECMI)

On 30 October, the European Capital Markets Institute (ECMI) published a commentary by Cosmina Amariei named Strengthening the EU policy framework for retail investors, which acknowledged that retail investors need coherent and reliable narratives around capital markets.

This requires moving away from reductive debates about products and providers. Rather, a comprehensive agenda for retail investors should focus on solutions (and underlying asset classes) to meet specific financial objectives (fully scalable and/or customised). And ultimately, the financial industry must deliver ‘good value for money’. The CMU 2.0 Action Plan alone is not likely to solve long-standing structural problems. Ensuring that retail investors benefit in practice from the same safeguards as professional and institutional investors is essential. Weaknesses in supervision and enforcement could give rise to regulatory arbitrage or market fragmentation, which will be to the detriment of these investors.

Download the full publication here


About the author:

Cosmina Amariei is Researcher at the European Capital Markets Institute (ECMI).


INVITATION | Opening the gate: Why and how to regulate large platforms acting as gatekeepers? (November 10)

We are delighted to invite you to an event which will be held on Tuesday, 10th of November 2020 at 15.00.

The event will consist of an open discussion on the upcoming Digital Services Act package and how to regulate large platforms acting as gatekeepers with our distinguished speakers Mr Werner Stengg, Cabinet Member, EVP Margrethe Vestager, European Commission, Ms Stéphanie Yon-Courtin MEP (Renew/FR), ECON Vice-Chair and IMCO Member, European Parliament, Mr Robert Dehm, Digital Policy and Telecommunication Counsellor, German Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Mr Carel Maske, Director, Competition, Microsoft and Mr Fadhel Lakhoua, Director, Regulatory Affairs, Orange.

The debate will be moderated by Philippe Defraigne, Director, Cullen International.

Given the current developments regarding the Covid-19 outbreak, this event will be held in streaming

This is a public event, the Chatham House Rule will not apply

This event is kindly sponsored by


About the debate

Under the second priority of the President von der Leyen-led European Commission’s ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’, at the beginning of this year, the EU executive body has started the elaboration of a new legislative action with the principal aims of reinforcing the EU single market for digital services, fostering innovation and enhancing competitiveness of the European online environment. Described as Europe’s first large overhaul of the approach to regulating the European online space for two decades, the Digital Services Act package is largely focused on online services, such as search engines, social media and e-commerce platforms. Those platforms have emerged as crucial actors of the digital transition, not only in terms of innovation and economic growth, but also for their societal effects and impacts on the European rule of law and democracy.

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Policy Insight | Sovereign debt management in the euro area as a common action problem | CEPS

This Policy Insight discusses sovereign debt management in the euro area, where the Covid-19 crisis has caused a huge increase in such debts. Our two main conclusions are that sovereign debt externalities remain important in the euro area, even in the new environment of permanently lowered interest rates, and that these externalities justify common euro area policies to deal with excessive sovereign debt accumulation and the attendant risks to the euro area’s financial stability.

Our proposal is that a substantial part of the sovereigns purchased by the European System of Central Banks (ESBC) – in the order of 20% of euro area GDP – could gradually be transferred to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), without any transfer of default risks, which would continue to fall on national central banks.

By rolling over these securities, rather than seeking reimbursement from the issuers, the ESM would make them equivalent to irredeemable bonds. These purchases would be funded by the ESM by issuing its own securities in capital markets. In addition to the national central bank de facto guarantees, these liabilities would be guaranteed by the ESM large (callable) capital and by the existing member states’ guarantee, and the ESM Triple A standing would not, therefore, be endangered. A European ‘safe’ asset would thus be created without the drawbacks of various other proposed schemes. By bringing a large supply of new high-quality assets to the market, the scheme is likely to relieve the downward pressure on interest rates in the bond markets of low sovereign-debt euro area countries. Financial fragmentation would likely be much reduced, though it is not likely to disappear as long as the European Monetary Union (EMU) architecture remains incomplete.

Follow this link to download the full publication

Photo Album | LIVE STREAMING | Partnering for emissions-free mobility in Europe

Policy Insight | Cross-border data access in criminal proceedings and the future of digital justice | CEPS

When investigating and prosecuting crime, a wide range of law enforcement and criminal justice actors increasingly seek to obtain electronic data held by service providers that are subject to another jurisdiction. Yet the processing of cross-border requests for cross-border electronic information raises several legal and practical dilemmas related to basic rule of law and fundamental rights safeguards.

This report examines the ways in which data can currently be requested, disclosed and exchanged, in full respect of the multilayered web of legally binding criminal justice, privacy and human-rights standards that apply within the EU, and in cooperation with third countries. It presents the result of discussions between members of a Task Force set up jointly by CEPS and the Global Policy Institute at Queen Mary University of London. Members of this Task Force included EU and national policymakers, providers of internet and telecommunication services, prosecutors, criminal lawyers, civil society actors and academic experts.

The report initially reviews the set of EU constitutional principles and legal instruments that uphold the existing framework for judicial cooperation in cross-border data gathering. It then looks at initiatives promoted by third countries and at the international level to establish various forms of cross-border public-private cooperation, before examining the e-evidence proposals currently discussed at the EU level.

Based on the inputs of the Task Force members, the report identifies a set of policy, normative and technical solutions that can facilitate rule of law-based and fundamental rights-compliant judicial cooperation for the purpose of cross-border gathering and transfer of data in criminal proceedings.

Follow this link to download the full report

INVITATION | Partnering for emissions-free mobility in Europe (October 14)

We are most pleased to invite you to participate in an evening of discussion on how public and private stakeholders can cooperate in order to achieve an emission-free mobility model in Europe with our distinguished speakers Deputy Director General Matthew Baldwin, DG MOVE, Dr Olivia Gippner, Policy Assistant, Office of the Deputy DG Clara de la Torre, DG CLIMA, Ms Julia Poliscanova, Senior Director, Vehicles and Emobility, Transport & Environment and Ms Joanne Kubba, Senior Director EMEA Public Policy, Uber.

Director General Henrik Hololei, DG MOVE will hold a keynote speech.

The discussion will be moderated by Ms Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General of Polis, Cities and Regions for Transport and Innovation.

Given the current developments regarding the Covid-19 outbreak, this event will be held in streaming

This event was co-organised with



About the debate

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, cities in Europe and all over the world were in the midst of a “mobility renaissance”. New shared modes of mobility were increasingly embraced by users, offering convenient, eco-friendly alternatives for commuting and urban travel. However, mobility patterns changed with the Corona crisis, as people sought individual means of transport to reduce safety risks, including by returning to personal cars. Public transport had to reshape its operations and digital mobility providers had to adapt their services, introducing new safety measures.

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Photo Album | LIVE STREAMING | Open source and an open world: What are the EU prospects on global multilateral governance after the coronavirus pandemic?

Policy Insight | EU Trade and Investment Policy since the Treaty of Lisbon | CEPS

This paper analyses the most salient developments in the EU’s trade and investment policy since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, and sketches the key trade challenges and priorities for the current Commission. In particular, it analyses how the EU institutions applied their newly conferred competences within a new institutional set-up in order to address the various internal and external challenges facing EU trade policy.

The paper demonstrates that since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon more than a decade ago, the EU institutions have had to constantly use their newly conferred competences within a new institutional set-up to address the various internal and external challenges. Moreover, it argues that a more assertive trade policy under the ‘geopolitical’ von der Leyen Commission will be consolidated and further reinforced in the ongoing trade review of the EU’s trade policy, which will aim to contribute to the EU’s post-Covid 19 recovery in line with the EU’s new ‘Open Strategic Autonomy’ model.

Follow this link to download the publication