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Biden seeks to reset relations with Europe. But the ground rules have changed.

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(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden walks on stage to speak at the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

After four years under the “America-first” leadership of former President Donald Trump, restoring relations with Europe is a stated goal for President Joe Biden—but that won’t be as easy as flipping a switch, Northeastern faculty experts say.

“Europeans are pushing for the E.U. to stand on its own, to not defer to the U.S. on certain decisions, and if needed to move forward on its own,” says Mai’a Cross, the Edward W. Brooke professor of political science and international affairs. “The notion that the U.S. is an unreliable ally is an unfortunate dimension of what has to be repaired in the trans-Atlantic relationship now that Trump is out of office.”

survey of more than 15,000 people in 11 countries, commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations, reveals that Europeans have lost faith in the United States—a warning that relations between the two economic giants may not revert back to normal under President Joe Biden. The poll, released Jan. 19, finds widespread belief that the U.S. political system is broken, that China will surpass the U.S. within a decade, and that Europe can no longer rely upon its traditional American partnership.

“Europeans like Biden, but they don’t think America will come back as a global leader,” Mark Leonard, the council’s director, told The Guardian. “When George W. Bush was president (2001-09), they were divided about how America should use its power. With Biden entering the White House, they are divided about whether America has power at all.”

Driving the uncertainty in Europe, says Cross, are concerns that American voters in 2024 will re-elect Trump or opt for a like-minded nationalist to further upend U.S. foreign policy. Though Biden led the popular vote in the November election by 7 million, his electoral college victory was earned by a narrow margin of 44,000 votes across Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin.

But Cross and Julie Garey, an assistant teaching professor of political science who specializes in international relations and U.S. foreign policy, are guardedly optimistic that Biden’s traditional approach will soothe his European partners.

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