Who Will Be Europe’s Next Leader?

For the last several decades, ties between France and Germany have been the engine of European integration. After centuries of war on the European continent through which France and Germany were historic rivals and often bitter enemies, culminating in the devastation of World War II, European nations searched for a way to eliminate inter-continental fighting. Many of Europe’s leaders argued that economic integration was the first step and believed it would eventually pave the way for a politically integrated union of European states. Both original signatories of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 – where France and Germany, along with Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, established the European Economic Community (EEC) –  and proponents of deeper integration, the partnership between Germany and France has been one of the driving forces ever since.

EU Leadership of Yore

Of course, friction continued to exist between the two partners. After World War II and for many years, France feared Germany would again become too economically and politically powerful, eclipsing its own position of power on the continent. Former French President Charles de Gaulle originally envisioned a Europe in which France and Germany would lead, but with France firmly holding the preeminent role. In those early years of the European integration project, Germany did play more of a supporting role to France as the German economy recovered and the country struggled to reconcile its place in Europe.

Today, however, the partnership dynamic changed. Germany now has Europe’s largest economy. In fact, Germany is considered to be the most powerful country in Europe, largely due to the long-serving German chancellor who just stepped down from office. During her 16 years in power, Angela Merkel led Europe, both domestically and on the world stage. And, there is likely to be a shift in the balance of power in Europe with Mrs. Merkel’s departure.

Could the New German Chancellor Fill the Void?

The new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, took office in early December. This change in leadership comes at a time when analysts believe that Germany and the European Union are facing much uncertainty without the solid and predictable leadership of the former German chancellor. While the incoming German chancellor would certainly wield significant power, remnants of Merkel’s impressive and steady leadership, it will be months before the new chancellor is comfortably leading Germany and likely focusing inwards, before turning his attention to Europe. As a result, many European leaders are now vying to become the next leader of Europe in Mrs. Merkel’s absence.

The French President is in the Mix

Leading the way is France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who, as the Washington Post reported, “has been jockeying for years to be the next leader of Europe.” Many are looking to France to fill the void as France views the recent German elections as a chance to reset since Mr. Macron will seniority over the incoming chancellor. France during the Merkel years may not have been the leading country or leading economy; however,  the role France plays in Europe is crucial. This is true even if Mr. Macron’s central proposals – common European defense, euro zone reform, a common asylum policy, and taxes on U.S. tech companies,  – are not widely supported with in the EU. Mr. Macron faces a presidential election in April 2022 that could limit his influence in Europe, leading to even more questions about who will fill the role of Europe’s leader.

Italy is Also in the Race

Another leader in Europe is proving able to lead Europe after Mrs. Merkel’s departure: Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy. The Italian leader – who saved the euro as the former European Central Bank president – has made his voice heard throughout the EU, including in Europe’s reaction to the U.S.-manufactured crisis when withdrawing from Afghanistan. He pushed for an emergency Group of 20 meeting and even reached out to U.S. President Joe Biden during the botched evacuation.

He has also stepped in the EU’s bungled COVID-19 pandemic response. He has spoken publicly about using approximately $235 billion in EU money for pandemic recover. He even halted the export of AstraZeneca vaccine doses from the EU bound for Australia due to a shortage of vaccines inside the union. Dubbed the Australia experiment, observers view this as a turning point for Italian leadership in the EU. Mr. Draghi is becoming increasingly well-known and respected across Europe because he is not just fighting for Italy, but for the entire union. Mr. Draghi has presented himself as a likely contender to become the next leader of Europe.

Two is Better Than One

Yet despite the enthusiasm surrounding Mr. Draghi and the expectations set for Mr. Macron, speculation remains on whether just one leader can fill the void. Analysts say, though, that the likely new leaders of Europe will be both French President Macron and Italian Prime Minister Draghi, working in tandem. Politico ran a story on the two leaders in July, calling them “Europe’s new power couple.” Mr. Marcon and Mr. Draghi have similar backgrounds and values as both are former investment bankers and longtime supporters of EU integration.

Moreover, the relationship between France and Italy seems to be improving by the day. On November 26, both leaders signed a treaty called the Quirinale Treaty – aiming to replicate the 1963 Franco-German Elysée Treaty – to continue to improve bilateral relations. Through recent actions, including the signing of the treaty, it looks as though both leaders are positioning themselves to take on the leading role in Europe together.

EU Membership is the Solution to U.S. and EU Concerns in the Western Balkans

On October 6, the 27 European Union (EU) member states met with their counterparts in the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia – at a summit in Slovenia to discuss the Western Balkans nations joining the EU. However, many dismissed the summit as a perfunctory effort by Slovenia, who currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, as the possibility of membership in the bloc seems to be slipping further away. 

Today, entho-nationalism and tribalism are on the rise in the region. Bosnia looks to be on the verge of possible civil war. EU leaders are increasingly worried that Serbia is again showing authoritarian tendencies. Moreover, the United States, which has historical and strategic interests in this region, continues to warn its European allies that Western adversaries like Russia and China are gaining influence. As the EU and the United States continue to grapple with these internal and external threats to regional stability, the worse the situation becomes. The longer the EU holds out on extending EU membership to the Western Balkan nations, the more likely the region is to descend into chaos. The solution is for the EU, with U.S. support, to push the accession process in earnest to ensure the region’s guaranteed chance at stability.

EU Enlargement

When the Cold War ended in 1991, the former Soviet states in Central and Eastern Europe began integrating with the EU, seeing Western institutions – like the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – as the keys to more stable and prosperous futures. Soon they began pursuing membership in these Western institutions. As a result, ten former Soviet republics joined the EU in 2004 – the Visegrad Four of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia; the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; and Slovenia, a former member of Yugoslavia. Three years later, Bulgaria and Romania joined, as well as Croatia, another former Yugoslav republic, in 2013. It seemed almost certain that EU would next expand into the Western Balkans.

The Western Balkans After the Cold War

That was not necessarily the case. After the Cold War, Yugoslavia took a bit of a different path than Central and Eastern Europe nations. While never part of the Soviet empire, Yugoslavia was a socialist state, comprised of six republics and run by its own dictator, Josep Broz Tito. Soon after the end of the Cold War, a strong sense of nationalism quickly replaced communism in the Western Balkans. 

Yugoslavia collapsed, descending into war in the early 1990s along those same ethnic and tribal lines suppressed under Tito’s rule. After Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991, war broke out in Croatia where Serbs tried to create their own state. By 1992, the conflict spilled over into Bosnia, where its Bosnian Serbs, backed by Serbia, drove Bosnian Muslims from their homes in what has been labeled an ethnic cleansing campaign. Then, in 1999, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a Serbian province, fought another brutal war of independence against Serbia.

Europe turned to its American allies to end the conflicts. The war in Bosnia ended only after the United States brokered a peace deal with the warring parties. In 1999, NATO stepped in with a US-led bombing campaign in Serbia in an effort to halt the violence against the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The decades-long bloody wars left those countries war-torn and devastated. Yet, the possibility of EU membership served as a catalyst for reform in the Western Balkans. 

EU Enlargement into the Western Balkans? Not So Fast

Since 2003, the EU, supported by the United States, has essentially promised the remaining Western Balkan nations the prospect of membership in the bloc, assuring them that their future lies with Europe. Today, the remaining Western Balkan nations – minus Slovenia and Croatia, which declared independence in 1991 and are already members of the EU – are at various stages in the membership process. 

Still, these talks are barely progressing. Montenegro and Serbia are the furthest into the process, already having opened formal accession talks several years ago. Albania and North Macedonia – whose membership bids are linked – are awaiting official negotiations to commence. Lastly, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina remain potential candidates for membership, yet are nowhere near actually starting the negotiations. Yet, admitting new members from the Western Balkans is no longer as popular as it was nearly 20 years ago. But, that is exactly what the EU and the United States need to be pursuing.

Political Fault Lines Rumble Once Again

Just over a quarter of a century after the end of the war in Bosnia, the country is again facing renewed threats to political stability (Lowy). The 1995 Dayton Accords eventually brought peace to Bosnia, a country comprised of several ethnic groups including including the Eastern Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Bosniaks, and Catholic Croats, after several years of bloody, ethnically driven war.

The Accords implemented a government under which one Bosnian Serb, one Bosniak, and one Bosnian Croat share power. There is now speculation over whether the Dayton Accords may no longer be able to hold Bosnia together. In early October, the Bosnian Serb leader, part of the tripartite presidency, announced plans that amount to secession to build up a Serb-dominated state. Just as it did in the early 1990s, Bosnia once again finds itself on the verge of civil war.

A Turn Toward Authoritarianism

The EU and the United States are concerned that Serbia is growing more authoritarian under President Aleksander Vucic. This is a threat to the stability of the Western Balkans region as well as the larger EU given that Serbia – the prevailing republic in the former Yugoslavia under former President Slobodan Milosevic – spent much of the 1990s clashing with the other former republics. Mr. Vucic is a reformed ultranationalist who, in the waning days of the Yugoslav wars, interestingly served as Milosevic’s information minister. 

Under Mr. Vucic, Serbia has turned toward authoritarianism as the ruling party, the Serbian Progressive Party, controls the government, judiciary, and security services and limits the local media. Moreover, Serbia has undergone a democratic backslide of sorts, filled with allegations of corruption, cronyism, and voter intimidation in what Foreign Policy politely describes as soft autocracy. To make matters worse, Serbia is ramping up its defense spending to “unite Serbs wherever they live.” While Serbia is nominally democratic, deeper engagement with the EU and a push for reforms would do a lot to help Europe extinguish the growing authoritarianism on its southeastern flank.

Outside Influence 

Further compounding Western concerns that Serbia is developing closer ties with China and Russia. Western officials fear that Russia, who regularly provides arms to its Slavic ally, is encouraging Mr. Vucic to destabilize the Western Balkans. Beyond Serbia, Russia has increased diplomatic interactions with several countries along tribal and religious lines to hinder the region’s integration into the EU and NATO. This, however, is the West’s fault as the EU and the United States have neglected the region for decades, laying the groundwork for China and Russia to fill the vacuum. 

China now has economic ambitions and ties in the region, including the extension of its Belt and Road Strategy. The nations in the Western Balkans, as a result, are looking to China for trade and investment. Delaying EU membership to the Western Balkans only opens the region up to the EU and United States’ adversaries filling the void left by Western institutions. Deeper engagement and progressing accession talks would help the EU and the United States more efficiently and effectively battle growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region. 

The United States Finally Lifts COVID-19 Travel Restrictions on Friends and Allies

The United States recently announced that it will lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign travelers on November 8. On that day, the United States will permit air travelers from the European Union and the United Kingdom, among other countries, as well as travelers from Canada and Mexico crossing the U.S. land borders to enter the U.S. with proof of vaccination. The illogical travel restrictions, which have been in place since early 2020, irritated America’s European allies, who were frustrated by the lack of reciprocity. Similarly, the restrictions caused tension with the governments of Mexico and Canada, who lobbied for the U.S. to remove the restrictions.

For many months, U.S. allies have been expecting this announcement. While the Biden administration looked into gradually relaxing the travel restrictions, the Delta variant “significantly changed the president’s calculus.” As more and more countries vaccinate their citizens, the United States finally decided to begin relaxing the restrictions. Yet, the administration’s decision to allow fully vaccinated citizens traveling by air from the European Union and United Kingdom and across the land border from Canada and Mexico – many of the United States’ closest friends – was long overdue.

Across the Pond

The United States announced in September that the travel ban would be lifted for fully vaccinated international travelers, including those coming from the European Union and United Kingdom, without specifying a date for the change in policy. The Trump administration instituted the ban in January 2020 in hopes of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 into the United States. The Biden administration continued the travel ban upon taking office, noting that the restrictions were necessary after the surge of the Delta variant.  

However, the continued ban was angered America’s European allies due to the lack of reciprocity. Many across Europe anticipated that the Biden administration would lift the ban shortly upon taking office. After all, the United Kingdom allows fully vaccinated Americans to enter. Similarly, in June, the European Union began admitting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens. However, the Biden administration did not take such steps until September, further straining transatlantic ties that are currently in turmoil after the recent AUKUS alliance announcement and the abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan.

British and EU officials have long argued that the travel bans were not necessary based on the fact that COVID-19 vaccination rates in Europe are higher than those in the United States. Many European countries have more vaccinated citizens when compared to the United States. According to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, nearly 65 percent of all adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated. Similarly, 67 percent of the United Kingdom’s population are fully vaccinated. This compares to 57 percent of Americans who are fully vaccinated. European and British vaccination totals surpass those of the United States. Thus, based on vaccination data alone, the United States should have lifted the travel ban on its European friends much earlier.

The Border Lands

For the first time since March 2020, vaccinated travelers from Mexico and Canada may enter the United States by crossing the land border, aligning the requirements for crossing the border by land with those of air travel. The Trump administration first implemented the travel restrictions on its land borders with Canada and Mexico in March 2020, just a week after placing travel restrictions on much of Europe. Since the restrictions went into place, those traveling to the U.S. by land were only permitted to enter for essential reasons.

The travel restrictions strained U.S. relations with its closest neighbors. One kicker for Canada was the fact that the Canadian government, much like the European Union, had reopened its border to the United States in August, allowing U.S. citizens to travel into Canada. Yet, much like in Europe, Canada’s vaccination rates are higher than those of the United States: approximately 74 percent of Canada’s population was fully vaccinated, compared to 57 percent of America’s population.

According to the Our World in Data project, 41 percent of the Mexican population are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While Mexico’s total count of fully vaccinated citizens is lower than that of Canada and the United States, Mexico’s total percentage of citizens with at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, 54 percent, is not much lower than the total of U.S. citizens with at least one shot, totaling 66 percent. The Biden administration can no longer use the rise of the Delta variant and lack of vaccinated populations as an excuse to maintain travel restrictions. In fact, the Biden administration should have opened cross-border travel of those coming from Canada and Mexico who are fully vaccinated months ago.

Conclusion

On November 8, fully vaccinated international travelers, coming by air or land, will be able to enter the United States for the first time in almost two years. Instituted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the United States by the Trump administration, the Biden administration continued these efforts. The continued travel restrictions on travelers coming from the European Union and the United Kingdom, as well as border closures to travelers coming to the U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico, frustrating some of its closest allies and causing tension with its only two neighbors, with whom the United States typically maintains close ties. The United States should have eased pandemic-implemented travel restrictions to fully vaccinated travelers from these countries much earlier.

Backgrounder: Mr. Biden Goes to Europe

On June 9, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. set off for a trip to Europe with stops in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Switzerland. While in the United Kingdom, President Biden, an avowed Atlanticist, attended a Group of 7 (G-7) meeting on the first leg of the trip and also met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Then, he traveled to Brussels to meet with leaders from the other 29 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and then attended a summit with leaders from the European Union (EU), including the Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, who runs the European Commission. On the last day of the trip, President Biden met with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, in Geneva.

Before boarding Air Force One, President Biden published an op ed in the New York Times, where he stated that “this trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrating the capacity of democracies to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age.” In short, the purpose of his European trip was three-fold: show America’s European allies that the United States is back, get on the same page with the Europeans about China, and put guardrails on the U.S. relationship with Russia.  

The G-7 Meeting

President Biden’s meeting with the leaders of the G-7 countries in Cornwall, a small coastal town in the United Kingdom, was relatively fruitful. Number one on his agenda was getting the United States’ closest European allies (including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy), Canada, and Japan to agree on the threat that a rising China poses, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative. The G-7 meeting was the first attempt by leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations to counter the Belt and Road Initiative, through which China lends and invests money to countries across Africa, Latin America, and now Europe. As a result, the G-7 leaders began discussions on designing a similar program called Build Back Better for the World.

Beyond direct concerns about China, the G-7 leaders announced several other initiatives. For one, the leaders of the G-7 committed to donating more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries. The G-7 leaders also pledged to cutting their collective carbon emissions in half by 2030 and agreed to imposing a minimum 15 percent corporate tax.

The Special Relationship

While in the United Kingdom, President Biden met with Prime Minister Johnson for their first in person get-together. In a meeting designed to “affirm the special relationship” between the United States and United Kingdom, the two leaders introduced an updated Atlantic Charter based off the one signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in 1941.

The two leaders revised the 80-year-old charter, originally created to ensure the “final destruction of the Nazi tyranny,” to include present day threats like cyberattacks, election interference, pandemics, and climate change. Above all, the meeting between the two leaders was to “redefine the Western alliance” in the face of a global ideological struggle between democracies and autocracies, led by China and Russia.

President Biden took the time to raise concerns over Northern Ireland. He worries that Prime Minister Johnson will destabilize the Good Friday peace agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland in his Brexit dealings. President Biden publicly asserted during his campaign that it was imperative that the Good Friday Agreement not “become a casualty” of Brexit.

Mr. Johnson, who is eager to show off the United Kingdom’s newly branded post-Brexit plans called Global Britain, has not so subtly made his hopes known for a trade deal with the United States as a way to calm the nerves of his citizens in post-Brexit Britain. However, President Biden echoed his former boss when he declared that a trade deal between the two countries would hinge on the prevention of a hard border between Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, an independent country which is still part of the EU.

NATO Summit

After the G-7 meeting, President Biden and his team traveled to Brussels for summits with leaders of NATO and the EU. At a pivotal point in alliance history, President Biden made sure to alleviate his NATO pals’ anxiety after four turbulent years of American leadership under the Trump administration.

In this vein, President Biden met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and held meetings with leaders of the Baltic states, Poland, and Romania to hear concerns about Russia’s threat to NATO members in Eastern and Central Europe. NATO, during this summit, targeted Russia due to its aggressive military activity and wargames along NATO’s borders. Moreover, for the first time in alliance history, NATO mentioned China in its final communique, calling the communist nation a “constant security challenge” and recognized that China is trying to weaken the global order.  

Perhaps most importantly, President Biden recommitted to NATO’s Article 5, which states that an attack on any member is an attack on all. “Article 5 we take as a sacred obligation,” he affirmed. He also acknowledged the apprehension of America’s NATO allies: “I want NATO to know America is here.” His attendance and actions at the NATO summit were intended to reassure NATO allies that the United States is, in fact, back.

Let’s Talk Turkey

While in Brussels for the NATO summit, President Biden met individually with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At a time when Turkey’s relationships with the United States and Europe are quite tense, President Erdogan has considerable leverage over his Western allies. However, President Erdogan’s continued authoritarian tendencies have not helped the situation, and neither have his efforts to balance relations with Russia, NATO’s archenemy, particularly over Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

Through the first few months of his administration, President Biden has “given [President] Erdogan the diplomatic cold shoulder.” Biden called the Turkish president for the first time in April, only to state that he was officially recognizing the 1915 slaughter of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as genocide. This decision angered President Erdogan profoundly, calling the decision a “deep wound” in the relationship, and has reinforced his fear that the United States wants to replace him. However, besides publicly stating his frustration, President Erdogan did not retaliate, suggesting he wants to establish a good relationship with Mr. Biden and the United States.

As the two leaders met, the Biden administration is looking to sidestep the disagreements over the purchase of Russian S-400s, Turkey’s gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and the animosity between Turkey and Greece and Cyprus, both NATO allies. As Politico points out, there is “little chance the relationship collapses even if tensions remain high”; it looks like tensions will likely remain high for the next few years.

US-EU Summit

On his next stop of his European trip, President Biden attended a summit with EU leaders. During the summit, President Biden noted the importance of the United States’ relationship with both NATO and the EU and stressed the importance of collaboration, stating that working together was “the best answer to deal with these changes.” President Biden and the EU agreed to remove tariffs on goods like EU wine and US tobacco and spirits, imposed in a row over mutual frustration over subsidies for Boeing, a U.S. company, and its European rival, Airbus, ending a dispute over the aircraft subsidies that last for 17 years.

There is one area of disagreement between the US and the EU on trade. In 2018, the Trump administration arbitrarily placed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum, citing national security grounds. During the summit, the EU lifted the retaliatory tariffs on US steel and aluminum for six months, with hopes that the United States would reciprocate. However, President Biden did not commit to lifting the punitive tariffs. Despite this sensitive topic, President Biden went into the summit with EU leaders “seeking European support to defend Western liberal democracies in the face of a more assertive Russia and China” at a time when the to adversaries are working to undermine the Transatlantic alliance.  

A Worth Adversary

On his final stop in Geneva, Biden met with Russian President Putin. Relations between the United States and Russia are at their worst since the end of the Cold War and have only worsened in the first few months of the Biden administration. Russia’s significant cyberthreat, continued interference in U.S. and allied governments’ elections, a massive build up of forces along the Ukrainian border, and the horrendous treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny have been the main sources of poor relations.

President Biden requested the meeting, which was a bit surprising after he called Mr. Putin “a killer” earlier this year. But, as the administration pointed out, President Biden has no intention of resetting the U.S. relationship with Russia. Instead, analysts agree the purpose of the meeting was to avoid tensions with Russia in order to be able to concentrate on his ever-growing domestic agenda to-do list. In the meeting, it looks like Biden wanted to put guardrails on the relationship and to find areas of compromise, which is increasingly becoming a theme in Biden’s foreign policy.

The summit was not all symbols and speculation. In separate press conferences, President Biden said he raised the issue of Russia violating Mr. Navalny’s human rights as well as Ukraine and Belarus. Both countries referred to the summit as “constructive” and “positive,” and voiced their hopes of a better relationship, agreeing to restore ambassadors back to Washington and Moscow and discussed areas of cooperation and mutual interest, including Afghanistan and the Arctic. The summit was not meant to reset relations between the two countries, but it did seem to fulfill Biden’s initial purpose: making known to the Russian leader that the United States will not back down.

The Uighurs, Allies, and China

Since 2017, China has clamped down on the Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group living in the Xinjiang region of China. Beijing justifies such actions as concerns about terrorism, extremism, and the Uighur independence movement. In what many in the United States and Europe have labeled as genocide, China rejects the notion that that the Uighurs are subject to any human rights abuses.

However, estimates predict that more than 1 million Uighurs were detained in Chinese re-education camps. Some former Uighur detainees reported that, during their time in detention, they were forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and to be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party. Others have shared that China is using torture as well as “forced sterilization…and family separations to destroy Uighur identity.” These unspeakable state-sanctioned actions certainly constitute genocide.

The U.S. and Its Allies Act

On March 22, in response to the genocidal conditions that the Uighur ethnic group and others are suffering at the hands of the Chinese government in the Xinjiang province, the United States, in concert some of its closest allies – the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada – imposed sanctions on China for its human right violations. What is the significance about the United States and its allies’ recent imposition of sanctions against China? It fits in neatly with what President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. announced as the fundamental features of his administration’s foreign policy..

On February 4, Biden delivered the first foreign policy speech of his new presidency. In this speech, Biden spoke of several themes that would guide his foreign policy, including placing re-establishing diplomacy at the core of U.S. foreign policy, restoring American leadership, repairing U.S. alliances, and returning to multilateralism. The imposition of sanctions on China for its human right abuses against the Uighurs embodies almost every facet of Biden’s vision for his foreign policy.

Diplomacy and American Democratic Values

In his February 4 speech, Biden remarked, “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.” He further asserted that the United States’ return to diplomacy must be “rooted in American’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.” By announcing the imposition of new sanctions against China for its human rights abuses against the Uighurs, the United States has done exactly what Biden promised: placed diplomacy at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

Imposing sanctions on China for its genocidal treatment of the Uighurs also secures Biden’s pledge that American democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy. By taking a stand against Beijing for these human right abuses, the United States is making clear not just to China, but to the world, that its foreign policy will be driven by its democratic values, including human rights, and that the United States will call out those who are violating its values.

Coordination with U.S. Allies and A Return to Multilateralism

On February 4, Biden emphatically stated that “America’s alliances are our greatest assets, and leading with diplomacy means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and key partners once again.” After several years of angering and alienating America’s allies under the Trump administration’s America First motto, Biden noted the importance of rebuilding relationships with the United States’ key allies to counter global challenges. “We can’t do it alone,” Biden further emphasized, signaling the importance of rebuilding the United States’ alliances in order to recalibrate U.S. foreign policy.

And this is exactly what the Biden administration accomplished when coordinating with the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union to impose sanctions on China. Not only did the United States pursue this action through diplomatic channels, but the United States also coordinated with some of its closest allies in order to address a mutual threat to their security and values. By imposing sanctions on China for its genocidal behavior toward the Uighurs, the United States capitalized on what the Biden administration recognizes as its greatest assets – its alliances – and this will only help in his quest of restoring those relationships.

The United States’ imposition of sanctions on China in concert with some of its closest, like-minded allies also indicates how important multilateralism is to the Biden administration’s foreign policy. Though the United States did not work directly through an international organization, like the United Nations, the Biden administration pursued a course of diplomacy through the imposition of sanctions, using a well-deliberated and well-orchestrated action in concert with its closest allies instead of acting impulsively, ineffectively, or unliterally. This action was the epitome of multilateral cooperation.

Conclusion

The horrendous treatment of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province at the hands of the Chinse government is undoubtedly a massive violation of the Uighurs’ human rights. By imposing sanctions on the Chinese government in coordination with the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada, the Biden administration is fulfilling its promises of returning diplomacy and American values at the center of U.S. foreign policy, restoring American leadership, recalibrating its strained relationships with its closest allies, and resuming its commitment to multilateralism.

Can Ireland Be America’s New BFF in Europe?

More than four years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU) in its unprecedented June 2016 vote, Brexit is over. The United Kingdom is officially out. For decades, the United Kingdom has considered itself as the “bridge” between the United States and Europe. Anchored by its special relationship with the United States and well served by its geopolitically advantageous position within Europe, the United Kingdom has long prized itself for “build[ing] bridges of understanding between the U.S. and Europe.” Interestingly, as the United Kingdom often lamented, the part of the special relationship most pertinent to the United States was the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU. But, now that the United Kingdom is no longer in the EU, who can the United States turn to in Europe?

In November 2018, the Washington Post ran an article which asked just that question: “Who becomes the U.S.’ best friend in Europe after Britain leaves the E.U.?” As the article points out, “countries across the European Union are clamoring to be the new U.S. sweetheart.”  As a former Italian diplomat noted, “Countries…they’d like to take some of the slack [of Britain’s absence]. But they don’t have the kind of relationship that the U.K. has with the U.S.” This is true; very few countries in Europe have that special relationship with the United States, though the U.S. relationships with France and Germany are quite close. One thing is clear: America needs a new go-to friend in Europe. Who better than Ireland?

An Already Close Relationship

Much like the United Kingdom, the United States and Ireland already have a close bilateral relationship. The two countries share deep cultural, ancestral, and linguistic ties. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 31.5 million Americans claim Irish ancestry. Both countries are democracies and value advancing democratic ideals throughout the world. The United States and Ireland’s histories are entwined; over 100 years ago, the United States’ influence proved critical to Ireland gaining independence from the United Kingdom. The United States also played a pivotal role in brokering the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, bringing an era of Irish history, called the Troubles, to an end.

Moreover, the relationship between the United States and Ireland includes strong trade and investment ties. In 2019, Ireland’s foreign direct investment in the United States was roughly $343.5 billion dollars. Further, Ireland hosts several U.S. tech and pharmaceutical companies. On the diplomatic front, Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, is invited to the White House each year for St. Patrick’s Day. This year, President Biden and Ireland’s Prime Minister, Micheál Martin, celebrated virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with President Biden remarking that “everything between Ireland and the United States runs deep.”

The United States and Ireland already share a close relationship in many areas, and it would be easy and advantageous for both countries to build upon these strong foundations and allow Ireland to be the United States’ primary interlocutor within the European Union.

Ireland’s Growing Diplomatic Clout

Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, Daniel Mulhall, noted that Brexit “would likely lead to the strengthening of the US-Irish bond and the emergence of Ireland as the main bridge between the US and Europe.” How is this possible? In recent years, Ireland has been playing a significant, if not outsized, diplomatic role regionally and globally. The United States and Ireland belong to many of the same international institutions, with Ireland as a member of the the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Partnership for Peace program; Ireland also secured a seat on the U.N. Security Council in 2021. A more significant diplomatic role for Ireland on the world stage will translate well to the European level and is exactly the kind of progress Ireland needs to show in order to be the United States’ new best friend in Europe after Brexit.

Within the European Union, Ireland is also showing some of its diplomatic prowess. The island nation attempted to mediate between the United Kingdom and the regional bloc during Brexit negotiations. As Thomas Wright, the Director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution opined, Ireland “wants a close relationship between the European Union and the U.K.,” especially as the Irish border became one of the primary issues during Brexit. Ambassador Mulhall anticipates that one of the main advantages brought to the U.S.-Ireland relationship by Brexit will be “an enhanced diplomatic role as Washington’s closest EU partner.” If this is the case, Ireland has certainly proved it has the diplomatic dexterity and competency to serve as America’s primary interlocutor within the European Union.

Conclusion

The United States and Ireland have a strong and friendly relationship. Anchored in common cultural, historical, values, and linguistic ties, Ireland and the United States already share a lot. Add in the fact that Ireland’s diplomatic clout, both globally and within the European Union, continues to grow, it only makes sense that Ireland would fill the role as a bridge between the United States and Europe that the United Kingdom vacated.

No, Brexit Does Not Necessarily Mean the Dissolution of the United Kingdom

In June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU) with a 52-48 percent majority. Since joining the European Community (EC), the EU’s forerunner, in 1973, the United Kingdom has had a tenuous relationship with the regional bloc. The United Kingdom never fully embraced European integration, fearing a loss of national sovereignty. This was evident as the United Kingdom opted out of several EU institutions, neither using the common euro currency nor joining the Schengen area.

All of Britain’s frustrations with the EU culminated in the vote to leave the bloc in 2016. However, several of the individual nations within the United Kingdom voted to stay in the EU: 62 percent of Scotland’s population voted in favor of staying in the EU, as did 55.7 percent of voters in Northern Ireland. In contrast, English voters were the main demographic driving the leave vote with 52.5 percent of English voters choosing to leave the EU, while 53.4 percent of voters in Wales did the same.

In his recent Foreign Policy article, “Brexit is Probably the United Kingdom’s Death Knell,” Brent Peabody notes that the United Kingdom has survived quite a lot since Northern Ireland became part of the United Kingdom in the early 1920s: World War II, the Troubles, and persistent questions from Scotland about its continued existence within the union.

But it may not survive Brexit,” Peabody posits, since Brexit has conjured up revived independence sentiments in Scotland and driven Northern Ireland closer to the Republic of Ireland. This sentiment is shared by many analysts who study Brexit. It is true that Brexit exposed the deepening fractures within British society. However, despite renewed independence sentiments, the United Kingdom is unlikely to break up.

Scotland

The desire for Scottish independence is not new. Scotland and England have an embattled history, and Scotland joined England in 1707. Scotland held a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom in 2014, with 55 percent of voters voting to stay within the union, partly in fear of losing its EU membership. The EU made it clear that should Scotland vote for independence from the United Kingdom, they would “not have automatic membership and would have to re-apply from outside the bloc.”

The argument for staying within the United Kingdom to preserve its EU membership is now moot, since the United Kingdom officially departed the EU on January 31, 2020, followed by an 11-month transition period in which the United Kingdom and EU negotiated their future relationship. Brexit has brought support for Scottish independence back into political debate. In fact, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, argues that Brexit “transformed the situation by dragging Scotland out of the European Union against its will.”

Several recent polls indicate increasing support for Scotland’s independence. The Scottish National Party, expected to win a majority in the Scottish Parliament elections in May, plans to capitalize on this increasing support to secure another referendum. While it is likely that another referendum will occur, this will require London’s blessing and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected the idea of Scottish independence on several occasions. In the long run, it is doubtful that Scottish voters will actually vote to leave the United Kingdom as there are too many economic and financial benefits remaining in the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, which also voted to remain in the EU, has been part of the United Kingdom for approximately a century. The Irish War of Independence against Britain ended in 1921 when the island nation was divided into Northern Ireland, which became part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU. Decades of chaos, war, and hostility ensued, primarily between predominantly Catholic Republicans aligned with the Republic of Ireland and the mostly Protestant unionists who wished to maintain a closer relationship to the United Kingdom.  

A desire for reunification has not subsided in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. Partly as a result of Brexit, there is growing support within Northern Ireland for reuniting with the Republic of Ireland. Recent polls reveal that while 47 percent would vote to remain in the United Kingdom, 42 percent of voters favor reunification with Ireland. While this polling data indicates that there is growing support for reunification, the percentage of the population that wants to remain within the United Kingdom remains higher than those who would vote to leave. Although support for reunification in Northern Ireland has clearly grown, it is still unlikely that Northern Ireland will leave the United Kingdom.  

Wales

Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, most Welsh voters voted to remain in the EU. Despite support for independence in Wales being traditionally weaker than compared to the other United Kingdom nations, there is growing, if nominal, support for independence. A recent YouGov poll in October indicated that nearly 25 percent would support Welch independence from the United Kingdom, up 8 percent since 2016. Nationalism in Wales is gaining traction. Yet, in reality, Wales’ economic prospects are not good enough to support independence.

Conclusion

Recent support for Scottish independence and Northern Irish reunification with the Republic of Ireland calls into question the stability of the United Kingdom. However, the United Kingdom is unlikely to dissolve. Brexit has certainly exposed the deep fissures within British society, especially with respect to the United Kingdom’s relationship with Europe. While society is increasingly polarized on this and other issues, the dissolution of the United Kingdom remains highly improbable. The push for Scottish independence and Northern Ireland’s reunification with Ireland are unlikely to materialize and will create more of a political headache than an existential threat to the United Kingdom.

The Transatlantic Alliance

*This post is second in a series exploring what America’s allies in Europe can expect from the Biden administration.*

In line with his campaign promises and recent foreign policy speech, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is seeking to repair U.S. alliances, specifically those in Europe. In this effort, Biden reached out to the U.S.’s primary allies in Europe: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Biden recognizes that good relations with its European  allies are key to the U.S restoring its global leadership and confronting the global challenges facing both the U.S. and its European allies.

U.S.-European Relations

U.S.-European relations, which include the relationships between the United States and NATO, the European Union (EU), and bilateral relations with individual countries, have long been close, across both Republican and Democratic administrations. However, the Trump administration was extremely critical and often mistreated the United States’ European allies.

Much to Europe’s chagrin, Trump removed the United States from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and rebuffed multilateralism and participation in international organizations and treaties that the Europe has grown accustomed to seeing from its American partners. Trump also imposed tariffs on the EU. He labeled the organization as a “foe” and referred to NATO as “obsolete.” Worse of all, Europe questioned whether they could rely on their partner across the Atlantic.

Most European leaders were relieved, and even rejoiced, at the news that Biden won the November 2020 election. While most European leaders are approaching the U.S. with cautious optimism, they also acknowledge that relations will improve vastly. Biden has made improving relation with its European allies as a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Nevertheless, the two sides will not agree on every issue. In fact, there are likely several issues that will monopolize U.S.-European relations under the Biden administration.

Iran

In 2015, the United States, in concert with the P5+1, and Iran signed a deal designed to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. Trump withdrew the United States from this deal in 2018 for two reasons: lack of permanence in the deal and because the deal did not include Iran’s regional aggression, including ballistic missile development and support for militant groups around the region. Trump subsequently imposed harsh sanctions on Iran, angering his European allies.

Regrettably, Iran advanced its nuclear program since the U.S. withdrawal. As a result, Biden has noted his intention to rejoin the nuclear deal, but Europe recognizes it will not be quite as easy as that. The United States’ potential reentry into the deal will be an issue that occupies U.S.-European relations during the Biden administration.

China

The rise of China is another issue that will likely absorb both the United States and Europe’s attention over the next four years. The High Representative of the European Union recently noted that the United States and Europe are mostly aligned on China. “We are both liberal democracies and market economies, but that does not mean our interests always coincide. And that does not mean that we have to follow blindly what Americans decide to do, with respect to China.”

Most important for Europe is not being caught in the middle of a “trade battle” between the U.S. and China. And yet, the EU negotiated a new trade deal with China at the end of 2020, with the assumption that engaging with Beijing is the most effective means of altering its behavior.

The timing of the deal, however, frustrated the incoming Biden administration weeks away from taking office, hoping that Europe would consult with them first. But the EU went ahead with the deal anyway. Biden has promised to consult with allies on all matter of issues related to China, but this trade deal caused Europe and the U.S. to start off on a curious footing.

European Security

Europe’s participation in providing for its own security will also demand attention on both sides. European security was a major sticking point for the Trump administration, one that will likely carry over into the Biden administration. Trump was not the first U.S. president to question whether Europe should contribute more to its own security; this was a common sentiment of former presidents as well.

European leaders, led by President Macron, have begun calling for strategic autonomy, or what Europeans call “promoting greater European independence from the United States.” Most European leaders acknowledge that Europe could play a bigger role in defending itself instead of relying primarily on the United States. For one, divisions exist between the United States and Europe, and within Europe itself, on what signifies a major challenge, depending on the audience.

Biden, despite his promised efforts to improve U.S. alliances with its European partners, is expected to encourage Europe to assume more responsibility for its own security, though taking a less draconian approach than Trump. While Biden announced that the United States would not remove U.S. troops from Germany and will take a more rational position on this issue, the degree to which Europe defends itself without relying so much on the United States is one that will dominate U.S.-European relations over the coming years.

Conclusion

One of the foundational themes of Biden’s foreign policy is improving relations with U.S. allies, particularly those in Europe. While most European leaders are happy about Biden’s election and the United States’ return to a more traditional, familiar foreign policy, they are also approaching the U.S. with caution. Relations will be much more cooperative, friendly, and smooth during the Biden administration than over the last four years; however, the Iran nuclear deal, the rise of China, and European security will likely be the focal points of U.S.-European relations under the new administration.