Butterfly Effect: Why Europe Is Snubbing Biden - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Butterfly Effect: Why Europe Is Snubbing Biden

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Butterfly Effect: Why Europe Is Snubbing Biden

By Charu Sudan Kasturi


It was supposed to a reunion of best friends after a four-year separation. But Europe isn't looking to return to life before 2016.

Charu Sudan Kasturi

Charu Sudan Kasturi

OZY Senior Editor Charu Sudan Kasturi's column, "Butterfly Effect," connects the dots on seemingly unrelated global headlines, highlighting what could happen next and who is likely to be impacted.

Jake Sullivan was clear about what America expected from Europe. “The Biden-Harris administration would welcome early consultations with our European partners about our common concerns on China’s economic practices,” President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for national security adviser said, responding to reports of hectic negotiations between China and the European Union on a trade and investment deal.

Yet eight days later, as the world prepared to ring in 2021, Beijing and Brussels went ahead and signed the pact, ignoring Sullivan’s nudges. EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel smiled on a video call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron as they all approved the agreement.

It was a public slight — and not the only one.

Biden’s election in November was supposed to reunite old lovers — or at least the best of friends — after a four-year separation during which President Donald Trump spurned one of America’s most trusted relationships. But the European Union and the incoming Biden team are off to a rocky start. The EU is using the final days of the Trump presidency to lay out its own independent foreign policy framework — one that threatens to complicate relations with the U.S. long after the current president leaves office.

Last week, the EU dropped its recognition of opposition Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó as that country’s interim president, two years after it joined the U.S., U.K. and multiple Latin American nations in propping Guaidó up as an alternative to the authoritarian regime of Nicolás Maduro. The U.S. and the U.K. still maintain that Guaidó is the true leader of Venezuela, and Biden is expected to continue with that position. But the EU argues that Guaidó drew his legitimacy from his position as the head of the Venezuelan Parliament. He no longer holds that post after Maduro swept the country’s parliamentary elections in December, with much of the opposition boycotting the vote.

Also in December, Macron hosted Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and made clear that France would not demand human rights advances from Cairo before selling it high-tech arms. Days earlier, Biden’s secretary of state nominee, Antony Blinken, had criticized Egypt’s recent arrests of human rights activists on Twitter. If that was meant as a message to America’s friends, it too was ignored.

And if that weren’t enough, top European leaders like Merkel have questioned Twitter’s decision to ban Trump from the platform for spreading election falsehoods and for inciting violence that culminated in last week’s mob attack on the Capitol. Her spokesperson called Twitter’s move “problematic.”

So what’s up, you might well ask? Surely, Europe’s thrilled that America will soon have a president it knows well and who is committed to rebuilding transatlantic bonds that frayed under Trump. Right?

Indeed, Biden’s election brought relief to America’s traditional European allies who were fearing the worst had Trump returned to power — including, potentially, a U.S. withdrawal from NATO and other strategic partnerships that uphold the collective security of the West.

But the Trump years have also made Europe realize what it can do on its own in the world, without hanging onto American coattails. It has also meant freedom from U.S-led expectations. When Merkel proposed in 2018 that the EU build an integrated military to defend the Continent, many of us saw her comments as a veiled criticism of Trump. Instead, it’s now increasingly clear, she was articulating an ambitious new vision for Europe, one in which the Continent remains friendly with America but is not as dependent as it came to be in the decades after World War II.

One area where that’s abundantly clear is in technology, where the EU is battling to set up its own versions of Google and Amazon, TikTok and Tencent to reduce the region’s dependence on American and Chinese platforms. That was never going to change with Biden’s election.

As this column has argued before, the power of autonomy can be intoxicating. Sober heads in Europe will recognize that at the end of the day, they need the U.S. as an ally. European leaders won’t jeopardize that. But the recent snubs to the Biden team show that Brussels wants to reset the relationship so that it’s a little more on its terms. It knows ties can’t sink further under Biden than they already have.

Charu Sudan Kasturi

Charu Sudan Kasturi

OZY Senior Editor Charu Sudan Kasturi's column, "Butterfly Effect," connects the dots on seemingly unrelated global headlines, highlighting what could happen next and who is likely to be impacted.

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