Europe Should Embrace Biden’s Democracy Agenda

Bruised by its interactions with the previous U.S. administration, the EU is leery of fully hitching its wagon to Biden’s geopolitical agenda. But Europe should focus on the bigger picture.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe this week for meetings with the G7, NATO, and EU leaders marks the first real test for his “free world” agenda of rallying U.S. allies and partners against the resurgent authoritarianism of China and Russia. At the core of Biden’s outlook is the belief that the world is increasingly divided into two competing governance systems—democratic and authoritarian—and that the United States and its allies and partners must unite around a common agenda to compete more vigorously.

So far, the European response has been lukewarm. Biden and his team have been stunned by Europe’s reluctance to embrace his agenda. Berlin, in particular, has pushed hard for the EU investment treaty with China and for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia—both seen in Washington as malign projects. Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have cautioned against forming a bloc or “ganging up” against China.

Underpinning this reluctance is Europe’s understandable desire to maintain pragmatic cooperation with Beijing on trade and avoid picking sides in the escalating U.S.-China rivalry. But this reluctance also reflects enduring European doubts about Biden following his narrow election victory over former president Donald Trump last year and anxiety about the return of an “America First” president in 2024.

Yet ignoring Biden’s overtures would be unwise. The most pro-European U.S. president in decades, Biden represents the single best opportunity not only for reinventing the moribund transatlantic alliance for a new era but also for advancing a new version of multilateralism. In this vision, smaller groups of like-minded democracies in North America, Europe, and Asia could press forward with their own new initiatives to shape the international environment in which China and Russia operate.

This task could not be any more pertinent. In recent months, increasingly belligerent behavior has emanated from both Moscow and Beijing. Russia has arrested its main opposition politician Alexei Navalny, amassed massive contingents of troops along parts of the border with Ukraine, launched damaging cyberattacks against U.S. critical infrastructure, labeled the Czech Republic an “unfriendly” country, and propped up the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. Meanwhile, China has sanctioned members of the European Parliament and independent European academics, waged “wolf warrior diplomacy” across Europe, and has continued its crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and pressure campaign against Taiwan.

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