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Europe During Biden’s Term

Europe During Biden’s Term

Monday, 25 January, 2021 - 11:45

Some have defined populism as pushing politics from the center to the periphery and margins, as institutions weaken and trust in them is undermined. In that sense, Joe Biden's electoral victory and inauguration were, perhaps, the beginning of populism's defeat and the center's reclamation of democratic politics.


Among the reasons that this development invokes some optimism, besides that it attests to US institutions’ solidity, is that the new president's victory was coupled with Democrats gaining control of both houses of Congress, though their majority in the Senate is slim. Also, the Republican Party is expected to become fragmented and embroiled in internal disputes, which would hamper its ability to take action and initiative in the foreseeable future. The Wall Street Journal's talk about the establishment of a new Trumpist party supports this postulation.


On the other hand, Trump's popularity and his ability to garner about 75 million votes in the presidential election lessens this optimism, as do the Americans’ deep divisions, which Biden focused on, in his inauguration speech, more than any other issue; to say nothing about the coronavirus' ravaging of the economy and the virus itself.


Still, Europe would be an external mirror to the containment of populism- if populism is indeed contained- both because of its special relationship with the US and because it is democratic. For any US-European division, like that seen during Trump's term or the 2003 Iraq war, would weaken democracy's momentum, reestablishing this special relationship would strengthen and enhance it.


The significant influence the United States exerts on Europe starts with Britain. While it is true that Brexit may undercut the county's ability to act as a mediator between the US and Europe, it is also true that regaining the special relationship could, in the long term, undercut Brexit.


Because they share a number of constitutional traditions and experiences, and both countries have a two-party system, and in view of the parallels between their trade union movements- which are deeply significant given these movements' influence on the composition and orientation of one of the two parties (Labor in Britain and the Democrats in the US)- Britain will always be the first to feel the impact of the transformation in the US.


Here, it might help to point out the extent to which the two countries' political paths correlated with and impacted one another, at the very least since the end of the Second World War. On the Labor/ Democrat front, Franklin Roosevelt launched his New Deal in the thirties, and Clement Atlee established the welfare state in the forties. Though the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Harold Wilson was pretty tense- mainly because of the Vietnam War- Wilson's interest in coupling workers' socialism and technology demonstrates the influence that the US, where Johnson was building his "Great Society" in the mid-1960s, had on him. As the Democrats moved to the left with George McGovern's 1972 presidential candidacy, something similar was brewing within Labor, first with Michael Foot heading in the early 1980s, and then Tony Benn competing with Neil Kinnock for party leadership at the end of that decade. And while the two parties moved to the center with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, both also subsequently leaned left with Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.


On the Republican/ Conservative front, we find something similar. Winston Churchill's 1951-1955 government was obsessed with being in concord with Dwight Eisenhower, who arrived at the White House in 1953 and stayed there till 1961. This policy was perpetuated by Harold Macmillan, who was preoccupied with quelling the disputes that arose after the 1956 Suez War. Of course, we also have the parallel between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which is almost a cliche of the two countries' domestic and foreign policies' harmoniousness. We were reminded of it with the Donald Trump/ Boris Johnson duo.


And who knows, Keir Starmer's arrival to No.10 Downing Street after the 2024 general election could be one of the Biden presidency's effects, especially if the decline in Johnson’s popularity because of his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic continues.


However, Biden's election coincided with two other European events that may be of little importance in themselves: In Germany, Armin Laschet won the Christian Democratic Union leadership race, becoming the heir to Chancellor Angela Merkel and defeating the populist candidate, Friedrich Meretz. This does not negate the many challenges Laschet will face from the populists of his party and from his ally, Marcus Soder, leader of the Christian Democratic Union in Bavaria, to say nothing about the Alternative for Deutschland.


In Italy, the government of Giuseppe Conte won the Senate's confidence. True, the government includes the populist Five Star Movement alongside the Democratic Party. But it is also true that the important thing, until further notice, is keeping the Northern League and its leader Matteo Salvini out of power. This has been achieved.


These sporadic indications do not allow for conclusiveness, especially since economic policies will play a decisive role in the end. But it is likely that elsewhere in Europe, in its east and its center, democratic movements opposed to populism will benefit from the pressure that is expected to be exerted on Vladimir Putin. But that, in any case, is another story.


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