Joe Biden Has Damaged U.S.-Europe Relations Even More Than Donald Trump

President Joe Biden may have damaged U.S. relations with Europe even more than former President Donald Trump following recent actions by the administration that have garnered criticism from the European Union (EU).

There has been particular anger in Europe following the creation of the AUKUS defense pact between the U.S., U.K. and Australia, especially given Australia's cancellation of a $65 billion contract for French-made submarines.

However, other issues have also played a part in what EU Commissioner Thierry Breton described as trust in the U.S. becoming "eroded." The Biden administration's withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and a recently lifted travel ban on fully vaccinated Europeans have also been points of contention.

Many critics charged that former President Trump had damaged relations with the EU by pursuing what he called an "America first" agenda.

Yet in his first eight months in office, Biden appears to have more seriously alienated key European allies and in particular France.

The French government recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia for consultation in the wake of the AUKUS deal—a relatively unusual move among the allies in modern times, while EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said France had been treated "in a way that is not acceptable, so we want to know what happened and why."

Ralph Schoellhammer, an assistant professor of international relations at Webster Vienna Private University in Vienna, told Newsweek that recalling the French ambassador to Washington "was never even considered during the Trump era."

"Although this might be an unpopular opinion on both sides of the Atlantic, I believe there is a case to be made that Donald Trump's foreign policy was not as disadvantageous for European interests as one might think, especially due to the sometimes-mocking rhetoric the former president used vis-à-vis the EU," Schoellhammer said.

"Some of the major foreign policy actions undertaken by the Trump administration including the final defeat of ISIS and the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, increasing the pressure on Iran and countering Tehran clandestinely and openly - the assassination of Qasem Soleimani - as well as abandoning the Iran nuclear deal laid the groundwork for the Abraham Accords and a reordering of the Middle East that I believe could ultimately lead to more stability than the pre-Trump era status quo," he said.

"All these developments positively impacted overall European security, since any instability in the region directly affects migration movements and the threat of terrorism which remain two of the biggest concerns of internal EU politics.

"These developments came to an abrupt halt with the beginning of the Biden administration that came into office with the promise to revive transatlantic relations (or 'relentless diplomacy,' to quote from President Biden's UN speech) but in fact acted unilaterally on key issues, beginning with the execution of the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan that was not coordinated with any of the European partners," Schoellhammer went on.

"Donald Trump's demand for more military spending and building of capabilities of other NATO member states was sometimes interpreted as a threat to the alliance, but if one talks to EU bureaucrats today, it is Joe Biden's approach that has truly led to more and more calls by European policy makers to establish strategic and military autonomy from both NATO and the U.S."

Schoellhammer also said Biden's decision to waive U.S sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will make Europe more dependent on Russia and "will have a negative impact on transatlantic relations" in the long run.

"This unilateral approach is now also apparent in the announcement of the AUKUS defense agreement. This is only on the surface about French submarines but is in fact an act of pushing Europe out of a new Indo-Pacific security architecture," he said.

France's 'Deal of the Century'

"When Australia agreed to buy French submarine technology in 2016, this was viewed as a 'deal of the century' in Paris that marked its deepening of strategic relations with Australia and maintaining an important role in the Indo-Pacific, including an alliance between India, Australia, and France that [French President] Emmanuel Macron outlined as a possibility in 2018. And this deal of the century has now imploded without any consultation between France and the EU on one side and the U.S., UK., and Australia on the other side," Schoellhammer said.

"What was and is intended as a power balancing act aimed at containing and isolating China, has at this moment accomplished containing and isolating Europe," Schoellhammer said.

"It is important to understand that with Brexit and the German focus almost exclusively on domestic matters - there is a general election this coming Sunday, and foreign policy was barely mentioned during the entire campaign - French foreign policy is almost equivalent to EU foreign policy," he said.

"It is not a coincidence that over the last few days the EU came out forcefully in support of Paris, since it is clear to Brussels that any exclusion of France from the Indo-Pacific region is tantamount to an exclusion of the EU."

America's Best Interest

Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek that Biden hadn't been afraid to come into conflict with allies.

"It's certainly reasonable to ask whether Biden's rhetorical commitments to multilateralism and sustained engagement with allies is matched by his actions. From alienating Boris Johnson over the Afghanistan withdrawal, to angering Emmanuel Macron over the U.S.-U.K.-Australia submarine deal, Biden hasn't shied away from dust-ups with some of America's closest allies," Gift said.

"Clearly, Biden's foreign policy hasn't come with the bluster of Trump or the bravado of his 'America First' sloganeering. Temperamentally, this is still the same Joe Biden who promised that 'America is back.' But Biden has, in his own way, proven that his decision-making will be animated by what he perceives to be in America's best interest," he said.

"For Biden, the real challenge will be in trying to move beyond recent impasses with European partners and identifying areas of shared policy priorities. Those include major global challenges, like tackling climate change, addressing COVID-19, and countering authoritarianism in places like Beijing and Moscow," Gift added.

Joe Biden Speaks in the East Room
U.S President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House September 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden's approach to the EU has led to criticism. Win McNamee/Getty Images