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What a Biden administration can do on Europe policy

What a Biden administration can do on Europe policy
© United Press

Never before have Europeans celebrated in the streets because of a U.S. presidential victory, and no U.S. president has known Europe as well as President-elect Biden. He can hit the ground running on U.S. policy towards Europe. After four years of President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump's Facebook ban to stay in place, board rules Trump allies launching nonprofit focused on voter fraud DOJ asks for outside lawyer to review Giuliani evidence MORE, Europe longs for a restored friendship with the United States, and it offers plenty of low-hanging political fruit for the president-elect. 

Biden has stated repeatedly that his first action will be to call all U.S. allies and tell them that the United States is back. He will offer an instant full commitment to NATO and its Article V on mutual defense. Naturally, Biden, just like Obama, will insist on them raising their defense expenditures to 2 percent of GDP. Europe needs help with the political management of the currently unruly Turkey.

Biden also is likely to declare full U.S. support for the European Union (EU), which requires no more than a statement, but it means the unification of the West. The United States would no longer support the division of the EU, as Trump did over Great Britain’s “Brexit.” An immediate positive but indirect effect would be a sensible trade agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom. The Group of Seven leading industrialized economies meeting that was postponed in 2020 can finally be held.

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Hungary and Poland have strayed toward authoritarianism under their current populist governments; they received diplomatic support from Trump. Now that meddling will end. The EU could then persuade first Poland and, next, Hungary to turn back to the rule of law and real democracy. An intricate question is whether these two countries should be invited to the conference of democracies that Biden has promised for 2021. 

Unlike Trump, Biden will stand up against Russian aggression. In spite of Trump, the U.S. Congress has maintained a strong bipartisan consensus on Russia, which resulted in the Combating America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in July 2017. CAATSA sanctified existing sanctions against Russia, but the Trump administration blurred their structure, offering the Kremlin no incentive to improve its behavior. A Biden administration should restructure the sanctions on Russia and entice the Kremlin to limit its aggression. It also would restore the Obama-era cooperation with the EU on sanctions against Russia. 

An erratic Trump policy demolished the whole scheme of arms-control treaties. Biden can try to convince the Kremlin to limit once again the arms race and reestablish proper mutual inspections. The lapsing New START treaty on strategic nuclear arms should be prolonged, and a new treaty on intermediary nuclear missiles with Russia can be concluded. The Open Skies Treaty on national overflights, which the Trump administration abandoned, should be restored.

Trump’s rumblings over Ukraine resulted in his impeachment, which blocked the strongly bipartisan U.S. policy on Ukraine. U.S. military assistance to Ukraine persists, but the United States needs to re-engage with that country and once again support it in its combat of corruption. Ukraine can still become a big democratic success in the former Soviet Union. Unlike Trump, Biden has made a strong pronouncement in support of democracy in Belarus as well.

Biden will stand up against Russian hybrid warfare, whose sharpest weapon is “dark” money. The Corporate Transparency Act, which passed the House of Representatives with a big bipartisan majority in 2019, is now attached to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act for 2021. It requires that all companies in the United States name their ultimate beneficiary owners to U.S. law enforcement, which would provide the necessary transparency to fight dark money.

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For Europe, it is important that the United States returns to the World Health Organization and global cooperation against pandemics, to the Paris Agreement on climate change and to the joint nuclear deal on Iran. 

U.S. trade policy is a major chapter. The idea of a U.S.-European trade agreement could be revived eventually, but a few quick fixes should be immediate. The United States should instantly abolish its fake "national security" tariffs on imports of EU steel and aluminum. It also should reestablish full cooperation with the World Trade Organization. Ideally, it should opt for a free trade agreement with Europe, as Europe maintains far higher environmental and labor standards than the United States.

The U.S. policy on Europe should be guided by two fundamental thoughts. One is that we must get back to normal with our closest allies. The other is that these measures can be implemented instantly with executive orders.

Anders Aslund is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. His most recent book is “Russia’s Crony’s Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy.”