Tue. Oct 19th, 2021


US Politics and Policy Updates

President Joe Biden will not lose votes on EU decision on Monday to Restore Travel Restrictions on Americans. But that’s a bad sign.

The move was just as important because of Biden’s unwillingness to match the opening of Europe to American travelers this summer, as was America’s highlight Delta variant infection rate. It would not have taken much to respond to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and others who pleaded with him to lift the ban. But that would have meant another battle with American anti-vaxxers. The fact that he refused to lift a finger says a lot about the lack of power of the EU.

All of this reminds them of Donald Trump. On a stylistic level, the difference between Biden and Trump can hardly be greater. Biden is captivating, he jokes with peers and usually says the right things. It’s just as hard to imagine Biden move a foreign leader aside in a group photo setup, as it is to imagine him starting a hotel chain with a family. But being loving is not the same as being a good ally. At this point, Europeans begin to see continuities between Biden and Trump.

Most striking is that Biden does not appreciate their opinion very much, even though he seems to be listening. Sometimes it can be earned. Many European leaders have complained bitterly about the way Biden has withdrawn US military forces from Afghanistan.

But in many cases, especially President Emmanuel Macron of France, the criticism ran wild. France withdraws its forces from Afghanistan in 2014. Yet Afghanistan was an area where Biden stuck to Trump’s script. Those who still had boots on the ground, such as the UK, are angry about the lack of consultation.

This is not the first time that Biden has blinded Europe – and it could boomerang. In May, announced the president that he would ask for the suspension of global vaccine patents at the World Trade Organization. The move was daring and unexpected. But it is stillborn. This surprised the Europeans and they killed it.

The conclusion is that Biden offered a sip on the left side of America to give the impression that he was adopting Big Pharma. His officials did nothing with the preparation with the EU governments, nor the follow-up to give the initiative a chance. Put it down on a gimmick.

The bigger question is whether Biden thinks he needs Europe. Its three stated priorities are Covid, climate and China. The transatlantic divide over how to deal with China is one of the untold stories of Biden’s first eight months in the White House. The US and its European allies have yet to build a convincing common front on China and it seems unlikely they will do so.

The business chambers of Europe, especially those of Germany, are roughly in the position that America’s big business was until a few years ago – strong support for continued access to the Chinese market. There is little European support for decoupling with China, except in narrow areas of sensitive technology.

This is likely to remain true in the Indo-Pacific, as in Europe. Most of America’s allies trade much more with China than with the USA. Because Biden’s America is so allergic to commercial transactions, and even digital transactions, like Trump’s, are unlikely to change.

Biden’s top priority is to succeed his household expenses and win next year’s midterm elections. Entering into economic transactions with foreigners requires too much bandwidth and can burn back domestically. This is likely to remain true as long as Biden is president.

There will also be no major climate initiatives. The Biden administration has made a large stock of investments in clean energy in the president $ 3.5 ton budget account. But there is no carbon price and no increase in gasoline tax on his watch. It would break his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class.

As a result, the COP26 climate change summit to be hosted by the UK in November is at risk of a train accident. The British government is making promises from the private sector – a well-known asset of political failure. Biden talks a big game about global warming, but does not walk. What he proposed would not be close to achieving the US goal of halving emissions by 2030. John Kerry, the envoy of Biden’s climate, travels the world urging countries to do the things America will not do.

What Covid is leaving. On both sides of the Atlantic, there are very few promises to end apartheid against vaccines. None of them seem willing to redeem them in the near future. Here is an area where the goals and means of Europe and America align well. But their lack of political will is shared. In short, “America is back”, whatever that means in practice. The west is definitely not.

edward.luce@ft.com



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