Joe Biden’s difficult challenge in Europe

For the American president, who arrived on June 9 in the United Kingdom, it is a whole week to multiply the meetings, to try to rebuild alliances, between a meeting of the G7, a mini-summit of NATO, a bilateral with the European Union and, to top it off – on the other side of the big division -, a tête-à-tête with Vladimir Poutine.

A tour at full speed

To put things right first, a quick summary of this high-speed tour, before tackling some substantive issues behind thecharm offensive American.

On June 10, Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pulled out of the mothballs the old Atlantic Pact signed in 1941, at the height of the war, by Roosevelt and Churchill, who had been at the origin of the Atlantic Alliance (NATO). They renewed, 80 years later, their mutual vows of complicity and support, between two great Anglo-Saxon countries which have successively dominated the world.

This Friday, it is then the G7, the group of seven industrialized powers, of which Canada is a part. A G7 worn by the years (it’s his 47e summit) and by the emergence of other absent “big names”, perhaps more influential.

Now that the rich are widely vaccinated, they will try to show their usefulness by an initiative in favor of vaccination in poor countries. We will also talk about a carbon tax, and the famous 15% tax that we want to apply to large multinationals – a project dear to Joe Biden.

Monday and Tuesday – with NATO and the European Union – the specific relationship with Europe will be on the table. Relationship damaged by the four Trump years, which we will try to repair on the merits, beyond fine words.

Joe Biden will end his first trip abroad as President of the United States by meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Photo : AFP / SERGEI ILYIN

Finally, to complete this European tour, a Mountain peak highly publicized: the tête-à-tête between Biden and Putin, the Russian president to whom his American counterpart has promised to tell his four truths. He already treated it d’assassin. He said as he set foot in the UK: I’ll see Vladimir Putin to let him know what I want him to know.

The substantive issues: values ​​and leadership

But behind this fireworks display of summits and small sentences, beyond the immediate debates (climate, pandemic, taxation of giants, common front or not against China), what fundamental problems can hinder this new alliance?

Two underlying questions arise on the sidelines of this trip: that of American leadership and that of the values ​​that we claim to put forward.

First, is this leadership – undisputed in the 1950s and 1960s among the allies – still possible in 2021? Is it only desirable, or desired, by the partners of the European Union, the G7 and NATO?

And then the common values What does the president claim to be putting forward as part of this reunion, what are they? Are these shared values? How lucky are they today?

What is the old liberal democracy worth in the great global competition that pits it against more authoritarian and nationalist forces, embodied – in particular, but not only – by China and by Russia, which are tough and skilful players, with presidents pugnacious? Mr. Biden will see this pugnacity on June 16 in the whites of Vladimir Putin’s eyes.

A front which crosses the West

But these forces – more nationalist and authoritarian – can also be found in Europe. In some cases, they are even at the gates of power. They have also become a primary driver of internal dynamics in the United States, as the assault on Capitol Hill on January 6 clearly demonstrated.

The debate between common values that Joe Biden claims to mobilize, and the forces national-authoritarian, this confrontation is present everywhere. The crack is deep and it is not only geopolitical (with good and bad guys internationally). It digs its furrow – politically and socially – at the very heart of many Western societies.

On the famous American leadership – real or supposed, accepted or refused -, the president and his tenors like the Secretary of State Antony Blinken like to repeat, for five months, their famous slogan America is back.

They loop this formula around, as if the rest of the free world just waited, speechless, for the return of the Savior who had disappeared, or had strayed for some time.

These propagators of the good word Biden argue that democracies, united among themselves, are today capable of meeting the challenges posed by their authoritarian adversaries.

In Europe, doubt about the United States

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in April.

Photo : AFP / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD

But are Europeans taking the Biden administration at its word on this? Do they believe his fine words?

This is the whole challenge facing the United States, in 2021 on the international scene, after four years of a Trump regime that has damaged the credibility of the United States as a partner and as a world leader, and, more specifically, shaken the foundations of the transatlantic edifice, this old alliance resulting from the Second World War (celebrated and revived symbolically by Biden and Boris Johnson).

A union which, moreover, even before Trump, had been subject for years to tensions and questioning.

The newspaper The World evoked June 9 difficult reunion between Europeans and Americans, behind purely verbal effusions.

This is the danger of a little hollow formulas like this one from Joe Biden: I will realize America’s renewed commitment to its allies and partners. We will demonstrate that democracies are capable of facing the challenges and thwarting the threats of our time.

Europeans are certainly happy to receive today someone polite, who does not spit in their face, talks to them about common values and a great democratic fight, in a world where autocrats are leading. But that does not mean that they are convinced.

Faced with all this, Europeans are skeptical. Certainly, they see Joe Biden as an honest, reliable, qualified person (this is the opinion of 77% of those surveyed by the Pew Center).

But the United States is no longer considered a example or a inspiration. Only 50% think the American system works good. Almost 60% think that if the United States was a good example democracy in the past, this has not been the case for a few years. Only 17% of those surveyed believe that they remain so today.

Between fear and exasperation

So that when the high horses of the Democratic administration land with their America is Back and claim to be a leader again, two attitudes stand out:

  • According to a first European point of view, rather Americanophile, more to the right and more present in Germany and in Northern Europe, one will always say, ideally, favorable to the idea of ​​a leadership or a umbrella American. But fearing that the United States, as a state, will no longer be able in 2021 to have a example force efficient, strong back and able to deliver the goods.
  • The second point of view is less charitable. We find it more among the French and the Mediterranean. Rather on the left, but also on the extreme right. There, we will be downright annoyed by this renewed claim – once the “good Democrats” have returned to the White House – to assert a preeminence which we no longer want and which no longer exists. “America is back; she is going to lead the free world again ”, and so on. These staggered formulas can also be annoying in 2021.

The battle of hearts and ideas

Joe and Jill Biden walk side by side with Boris and Carrie Johnson; each couple holds hands.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walk with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson ahead of the two leaders’ tête-à-tête in Carbis Bay, England.

Photo : Associated Press / Patrick Semansky

But Biden also speaks of a political struggle, of a struggle for ideas, for values, for a type of system: political pluralism, with a market economy – but regulated and corrected, because neoliberal excesses are today. ‘Hui criticized even in the White House. A system, therefore, which must defend itself more than ever, because it is under attack and it is experiencing failures.

It would be a new alliance that is no longer military or strategic, with precise geographical boundaries, a large red line in the middle and a great leader undisputed that would serve as a shield (which was a bit the old conception of NATO under American umbrella).

Today is the struggle of a whole era to know which ideas, tomorrow, will lead the world, and who will have the upper hand in the battle of hearts.

 
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