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Biden must get Europe right for US foreign policy to work for the middle class

In an effort to link America’s global role in the 21st century with the needs and concerns of its people, President Biden promoted his “foreign policy for the middle class” as a means to “succeed in the global economy.” Recognizing China as a competitor, it comprises a list of highly worthy aims, including job creation, infrastructure development, technological innovation and a promise that our trade relations will be to the benefit of average Americans. Coupled with its drive to rebuild sorely frayed ties with our European allies, the new administration’s plan sets a new course for the United States. Yet, if the transatlantic component of the administration’s vision is to be realized, it will require a new dialogue with the American people about the essential need to work closely with Europe.

Long gone are the days of the totalitarian threat of the Soviet Union, the 20th century’s greatest selling point to the American people as to why they needed to be deeply engaged in partnership with European democracies. Much has changed, and today the limits of globalization have been acknowledged. Amid these shifts, many Americans are rightly uncertain about what kind of foreign policy best serves their interests. An economic “foreign policy for the middle class” is designed to address them directly.

In his first major foreign policy address, President Biden stated his logic clearly, saying, “There’s no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy. Every action we take in our conduct abroad, we must take with American working families in mind… if the rules of international trade aren’t stacked against us… then there’s no country on Earth… that can match us.” 

Yet to be clarified, however, is how Biden’s approach plays out vis-à-vis the transatlantic community, the cornerstone of a world order that has brought unprecedented security and prosperity for hundreds of millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic.

By focusing on the economic foundation that allows U.S. foreign policy to be rooted in the support of the broad American middle class, Biden is working to rebuild a domestic consensus, one which includes both Main Street and Wall Street. This approach must consider that the U.S.-Europe economic relationship is the largest in the world, accounting for $4 billion of trade and investment activity every day. Any policy meant to help American workers must deal with not only with China but also Europe.

This is complicated by the fact that the percentage of Americans of European ancestry continues to decrease while those without familial ties to the Old World rises. Moreover, Millennial and Gen-Z Americans have either scant or no memory of Cold War conflicts that forged our crucial relationships with NATO partners. 

The time has come for a renewed conversation in America about our relationship with Europe. Effectively countering an adversarial China is a good place to start. The success or failure of U.S. efforts to contain an expansionist China will depend in large part on cooperation with Europe’s democracies. The growing bipartisan consensus in Washington on the dangers emanating from Beijing is shared by the majority of Americans. The Biden administration can use this understanding as a key point when talking to the middle class about the importance of engaging Europe.

Our economic interconnectedness is another key point. The European Union imported $277 billion worth of U.S. goods in 2019. Taken together, EU imports and investments provide jobs to tens of millions of Americans. In a competitive global marketplace, Americans need to be well aware that trade and investment flow both ways, despite the EU’s current $153 billion trade surplus. Moreover, if America’s remarkable capacity for technological innovation is to be further realized on a transatlantic scale, some policy coordination in rapidly advancing fields such as AI and biotech need to be achieved. 

Reinvigorated transatlantic relations, however, are about more than great power competition and economics. Despite being separated by an ocean, our societies are facing similar challenges. With Biden’s reentering the Paris Agreement, the U.S. and Europe are poised to more effectively respond to the crisis of climate change. Migration is as hot button a topic in Europe as it is in the U.S. While the contexts are distinct, lessons can be shared in our respective efforts to control migration pragmatically and humanely. Watching Americans demonstrate in the name of greater social justice in 2020, marginalized communities throughout Western Europe found the inspiration to mobilize for their own, as well as the greater good. They, too, stand to benefit from greater connectivity in the spirit of empathy and solidarity.

From our common defense to shared global challenges, our enduring transatlantic relationships are crucial. But they are grounded in something more basic than security interests and pocketbooks. Our open societies are rooted in shared democratic values and institutions. We recognize the universality of fundamental human rights and dignity. We are empowered by our representative government and free markets.

Enduring, winning relationships of any kind are built on common values. This is what distinguishes our transatlantic partnerships from bilateral transactions. The new administration’s economic foreign policy would do a great deal to sustain the transatlantic community by articulating the above points to the middle class, providing a mutual representation of American interests and values. 

Richard Kraemer is the board president of US-Europe Alliance. Scott Cullinane is the executive director of US-Europe Alliance.

Tags Biden biden administration China European Union Foreign policy of the United States Foreign relations of Europe Foreign relations of the United States Joe Biden Political positions of Joe Biden Presidency of Joe Biden Transatlantic relations

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