Barring legal surprises, the United States of America will soon have a new president and a new administration. The stakes, especially for us, in France as in Europe, are not limited to the presidential election.
Indeed, the governance of the United States grants very strong powers to the Congress of the United States. The electoral uncertainty that remains over the majority of the Senate (if the Democrats win Georgia's two seats after the second round in January, the balance will be 50/50) maintains suspense on the future president's ability to act .
However, many commentators in Europe have welcomed the election of a Democrat. If this is fortunate for the Paris agreement - with caution given its lack of a binding framework - and even more so for the billions of dollars probably invested in the protection of the planet, what can we hope for in terms of relations between the EU and Uncle Sam?
Will Biden be more open to multilateralism?
Will the United States have a more open approach to "multilateralism"? Probably but we can nevertheless doubt the interest in returning to it. Already during the mandates of Barak Obama, we saw the limits of the exercise between immobility and contradictions. Given the internal tensions in his country, Joe Biden will probably not have as a priority to invest in this register. In addition, elected for years by a federated state, Delaware, which is to the United States what Luxembourg is to the European Union, one can seriously wonder about a possible desire to help Europe face these issues. multilateral tax bases ... such as the taxation of GAFA.
Then, of course, President Trump's erratic jolts, bursts of tweets and the search for "deals" borrowed from "business" practices will cease. However, it is permissible to observe that these "Washington trumpets" never had an impact on the European Union citadel, in particular because the latter was never for the United States a fortress which resists them. Worse, many observers in global geopolitics had assured us of the fact that Donald Trump would help the European cause. His excesses and the uncertainties he openly expressed would make Europeans aware of the need to jointly ensure their security.
In reality, it produced the opposite effect. To each threat coming from the USA, the EU responded by giving pledges through purchases of defense materials "made in USA" and backsliding in terms of trade policy. In the present case, the European Union has exclusive competence. Its member states can only influence through the balance of power between them. From this intra-EU power play, the European institutions give the European Commission the mission of defending European interests.
In this area, the leaders, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland, have acquired know-how to control these issues. To define the European relationship with the USA, these countries are helped by other states in which the pro-American tropism is well anchored, like Portugal, Poland and Scandinavia or even Italy. Other states have been heavily imbued with American influence: Romania, Luxembourg and the Baltic States. The latter saw the arrival of many American military aid workers during the Russian intervention in Ukraine and they remembered it.
In short, the Gaullian vision of France is not at all shared. Despite the intense production of our think-tanks, the French vision is known but politely rejected. For lack of wanting to impose an effective balance of power in the EU, for decades and even more recently, the French rulers have been languishing in a vacuum. Note that Great Britain has never been a real obstacle. On the contrary, a member of the European Union, she liked to play the pivot between the two shores of the Atlantic. For that, with an art of tactics that she masters perfectly, she needed a Europe "alibi" a little annoying vis-à-vis the USA.
Europe acts out of interest
Why does the European Union refrain from using its power? Surely not out of weakness and, likewise, we would make a mistake to believe that it does so because of too complex governance, pro-American cultural complicity or very effective lobbying actions by the United States in our States. and in "Brussels". All of this is true, but not decisive.
Europe is acting out of interest. The mission of the European institutions has been to protect the EU's trade surpluses in the USA for years - between 120 and 140 billion euros each year -, such as European direct investments (FDI) across the Atlantic. The EU also intends to remain attractive to US FDI. There are many examples of the EU's retreat. With each threat against European car imports, everyone will understand German, the European Commission has caved in. This was particularly the case in agriculture and agrifood without getting anything in return. Airbus has also been little defended, but in terms of trade, the EU is still very much a winner.
Just after these American elections - in order not to interfere in the debates and take the risk of increased anger from the United States - the EU has just responded to the latest American sanctions with a few targeted taxes. The German economy minister immediately called for a measured reaction. Nothing is overlooked. The EU is not alone in protecting the massive exports of some of its members. It is even possible to consider that the most effective Volkswagen lobbyist in the United States is Lockheed Martin. Each acquisition of defense materials in the USA by European states effectively protects the trade relations of important economic actors of the EU with the United States.
Obviously, these objective alliances do not benefit everyone in Europe and they harm the convergence of our interests. Of course, it will take much more than empty words and writings to put an end to it. All the more so since France, a country which shelters the main competitors of the Americans in the defense sector, cannot use the same retaliatory practices as the USA. Indeed, the internal market protects European exports to France from all attempts at taxation as the Americans might decide.
Extraterritoriality: no response from Europe
So, with a new president and a renewed congress, will the United States give up the extraterritoriality of American law? Unambiguously, the answer is no. To do this, Europe would have to use the same intensity. She has the possibility but not the intention. It is obvious that she has more to lose than to gain by hardening relations with the United States. Europe as a whole but not France ... such is the tragedy. Our country has its back to the wall. The interest of a strong Europe is very real. General de Gaulle, in the spotlight because of the 50 years since his disappearance, knew how to protect France from American hegemony. It is time to renew the exercise by demanding radical changes from the EU.
The slight French trade surplus with the USA is a sham. It is potentially to be weighted by American imports into Europe, for example, the Netherlands and Ireland resold in France but not counted as "made in USA". Then, will the USA demand more financial contributions from Europeans to ensure their defense? The answer has already been given by the future American team: yes! The European states will undoubtedly accede to it only slowly and gradually, always in the direction of their interests with the USA.
EU: Washington has more influence than Europeans
Finally, will the Europeans pay the price for another US policy with China or other countries / geographic areas? These subjects will have to be watched very carefully. It was not all an economic war between the US and China. Their last agreement had also worried the Europeans who denounced it to the WTO. The extraterritoriality of American law could again interfere. As a "policeman of the world" the United States could put pressure on China, including in its access to the European market and / or vice versa for Europeans.
Ditto Russia comes "in play". SPD MEP Bernd Lange, influential on international trade issues, was also worried about the extraterritoriality of American law in the construction of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and his country. Remember that the hegemony of the USA is not a scoop. It already existed strongly under the former American presidencies. In this area, no one in Europe will go against and threaten NATO with a possible disappearance. The EU has a different approach, pragmatic and very focused on its economic interests. All strong EU actions exposing it to reprisals or historical dismissals complicated to assume, it is erased - again - out of economic ... interest with a small touch of speech on its fundamental values.
For years, the United States has had a much stronger influence on the EU than many of its member states. It is therefore not useful to provoke with ranting that is not followed by significant acts.
Europe is lucid but France must act
It is illusory to force the United States to change its policy. But the EU has room for maneuver, in particular by making better and greater use of the euro. In the state of tensions in Europe, continuing to oppose this reality will not help protect the European project. On the contrary, the critics are fired!
In addition, in the competition between the USA and the EU, research and innovation policies are central. In this area, in particular in digital transformation, the EU has set some interesting milestones. On the other hand, it must allocate much more substantial resources. Also to contribute to its defense, we have already written it. These decisions are easy to take and belong only to Europeans. It is not a “quarteron” of frugal states which can slow down this issue.
The United States has never bet on the dislocation of the EU. They used the more or less untimely statements of their president to strengthen their influence. Softer speech does not mean less firm practices. It is up to the Europeans, and in the first place to France, to counter them. As America returns to more stable and predictable governance, it is not time for Europeans to rejoice too quickly and fall asleep. Above all, France, which is the subject of catastrophic economic analyzes and forecasts, is in a position to demand from Europe that its interests be protected on the same basis as those of other Member States.
A net contributor to the EU budget and a massive importer in the internal market, it has - paradoxically - the means. The weakening of France in the EU, as at other times, allows it to get out of the logic of ineffective convictions and to demand more. Our European partners, foremost among them Germany, could better "balance" their interests, between safeguarding the European internal market - very profitable for them - and their relationship with the United States.