Economy & Politics

Europe can hope for Joe Biden

It doesn’t look bad for Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential candidateimago images / ZUMA Wire

I usually don’t make predictions. But now and then it is useful to just imagine better news. If we look beyond summer, two events appear on the horizon with the potential to change the course of events. Scientists tell us that a vaccine and / or therapy against Covid-19 could show a way out of the pandemic. As for the second option, my friends, who, like myself, deal with foreign policy, have taken a vow of silence. So let’s say it very quietly: The US could elect a new president.

Much of the world is working its way out of the coronavirus lockdowns, but the recovery will remain patchy and hesitant unless we have a greater certainty that Covid-19 can be permanently defeated. There is currently a risk that our return to a comparatively normal life in the fall could usher in a second wave of infections. To some extent, epidemiologists consider this inevitable. The question remains how big this second wave will be. As long as this uncertainty persists, the economy will remain cautious with large investments that require a strong upswing.

Trust is crucial for a sustainable upswing. A vaccine – or the reliable prospect of it, let’s say in a year – would significantly mitigate future risks and change the outlook. Therapy that lowers mortality rates could also pave the way. The dark picture that most economists are currently drawing is based on the assumption that the virus will not go away indefinitely. Given the prospect of complete control, the economic recovery would likely be much more pronounced than after the 2008 financial crisis.

As politicians and decision-makers outside the United States willingly speculate about every step towards a vaccine, they are strikingly silent about what would have become the geopolitical event of 2020 without the pandemic. In addition to a handful of autocrats, US friends and allies are largely behind Democratic candidate Joe Biden. In Europe, decision-makers are muttering that a new victory for Donald Trump would be a disaster for the democratic community of nations, the community that we commonly call the West. But most of them were badly off in 2016. Now to predict that US voters will chase Trump out of office is simply to challenge fate.

Biden values ​​his allies

But the polls indicate that Biden has more than one fifty-fifty chance of moving into the White House. Trump has been reduced to his base, the economy will struggle to find robust growth in the months leading up to the election, and Covid-19 could well kill many more in the country. Of course, circumstances can change, but the real chance that Trump will be swept away by an avalanche of angry tweets cannot be ignored lightly.

Biden’s victory alone would certainly not change the world. The intense rivalry between the United States and China, which is strategic and economic in nature, does not disappear through wishful thinking. The Middle East is far from peace. In Russia, Vladimir Putin shows little sign of wanting to give up his revanchism. The burdens of globalization and inequality will continue to fuel populism. The multilateral institutional structure is out of balance at the very moment when it is needed to counter the existential threat of climate change. These are all problems that no US leadership can solve, however benevolent.

But it does not matter. After Trump’s volatility, the mere fact that a US president would appreciate alliances again, that the United States would return to the Paris climate agreement and that it would strengthen the open, liberal order of the West instead of breaking it would be a huge step forward. There is a new opportunity that has so far failed due to Trump’s warlike unilateralism. And when democracy is on the decline around the world, it reflects to a large extent the contempt for the leader of the most powerful democratic nation in the world.

What Europe can do

During this time, America’s friends should do nothing but turn their thumbs. Rather, they should think carefully about how they position themselves as partners when it comes to re-establishing a rules-based international system – an order that China and Russia would most likely reject, but which is essential to preserve democratic values, on which the security and prosperity of the West depend.

Biden is known to be a staunch supporter of NATO. His choice would be the right moment for the European allies to keep their promise for higher contributions. The Democratic Party candidate has also indicated that he wants to save the international nuclear deal with Iran. So what can Europe do to ensure that Tehran is ready to address the understandable concerns of many Americans?

Beyond such regional concerns, governments in Europe, along with allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia, have the task of designing a broad western strategy towards China. It should combine the necessary attention to Beijing with the robust defense of Western interests and values. Trump’s abuses, sanctions and threats have so far given Europeans the pretext to avoid these difficult decisions.

The time when the world had a leading pole – that short time after the end of the Cold War, when it seemed as if the US could shape the world the way it liked – is over forever. But Trump’s presidency has shown us how destructive America’s withdrawal from any international leadership role can be. The offer the allies make to President Biden should be based on partnership. Of course Trump could still win. But in that case all bets are off.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020

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