Joe Biden Is Losing Powerful Friends in Europe

President Joe Biden is quickly running out of powerful friends in Europe.

With long-serving German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaving office and U.S.-French ties strained, the White House's direct line into the European Union is blurrier than ever, despite Biden's vow to reinvigorate America's traditional alliances.

The U.S.-U.K.-Australia defense pact has embittered the French, while anti-Americanism is alive and well in Germany, particularly on the left. France and Germany are the EU's pillars, and neither is currently enamored by the U.S.

The U.K., meanwhile—long seen as the White House's best way into the EU—has left the bloc, and is now stuck in a quagmire of Brexit-related economic strains, logistical challenges, and political division.

Germany's federal election held on Sunday ushered in the end of Merkel's near 16 years leading Europe's largest economy and the dawn of a newly uncertain era for Germans and their allies.

Biden and America's foreign policy establishment, too, are waiting to see what chancellor they will be dealing with next.

The right-leaning Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance Merkel has guided to political dominance lost out to their center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) rivals—led by Olaf Scholz—in Sunday's poll.

The SPD will be the largest party in the next parliament, with 25.9 percent of the vote. The CDU-CSU bloc won 24.1 percent of the vote, a "bitter" result according to Merkel's successor Armin Laschet.

Discussions to form a coalition are now ongoing. The Green Party with 14.8 percent of the vote and the Free Democratic Party with 11.5 percent of the vote could yet prove kingmakers.

Whatever happens, Biden is now denied Merkel's safe pair of hands.

For all her disagreements with four American presidents, the White House could a decade and a half count on Merkel as a reliable, professional partner able to marshal the support of her party and much of the country.

U.S.-German relations have been hampered in recent years by disputes over military spending, tariffs, and the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia—now completed despite American protests and awaiting approval by German regulators—and the EU's relationship with China.

Former President Donald Trump's aggressive diplomatic style exacerbated all of these long-running disagreements, culminating in an order to withdraw all American troops from Germany. But Trump's departure was never going to settle the long-running questions in U.S.-German relations—and nor will Merkel's.

Still, the White House may take some encouragement from Scholz congratulating Biden on his electoral victory, expressing support for the president's proposed global corporate taxation plan, and warning Russia that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline could be quickly shut off if Moscow fails to live up to its side of the agreement.

Biden has described the SPD as "solid," though when told of the exit polls by a reporter exclaimed: "I will be darned."

For now, Scholz's priority will be the arduous task of coalition-building—one that could take weeks or even months. It took Merkel more than four months to agree a coalition deal to underpin her final stint in the chancellor's office.

Meanwhile, the Biden Administration's relations with the EU's other pillar—France—have deteriorated.

The U.S.-U.K.-Australia defense pact announced earlier this month torpedoed a $90 billion submarine deal between Paris and Canberra, enraging the French and humiliating Macron—the de facto EU leader while Germans wait to see who will lead them next.

France withdrew its U.S. ambassador, returning the diplomat only after a phone call between Biden and Macron ended a five-day standoff.

"The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners," said a joint statement after the call. "President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard."

This week, Macron again urged Europeans to push for an independent military capability.

Speaking after the signing of a defense deal with Greece in Athens, Macron said: "The Europeans must stop being naive. When we are under pressure from powers, which at times harden [their stance], we need to react and show that we have the power and capacity to defend ourselves. Not escalating things, but protecting ourselves."

The French president has been a leading proponent of a unified European army, a concept that rankled Trump and has caused disquiet in the U.S. A unified EU military would be a powerful force that could undermine America's strategic dominance of Europe and the Mediterranean.

Macron is no Merkel; the young president is highly unlikely to last more than 15 years in office. He may not get beyond one term. But none of those vying to replace him in next April's election necessarily offer better prospects for the U.S.

Far-right figures Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour are both focused on immigration, Islam, and pushing back against the EU. A far-right victory would give the U.S. little purchase within the wider bloc, though would hamper any push towards further Europe's "ever closer union."

Michel Barnier—the EU's former Brexit negotiator and a member of The Republicans party—has set his sights on the Élysée Palace, also coming at Macron from the right.

He has said he will limit immigration and, somewhat surprisingly given his long experience working inside the EU, said France must regain its "legal sovereignty" from the EU's Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.

Barnier is often compared to Biden. One similarity is their in-depth knowledge of foreign affairs. The American president may find a like-minded French counterpart in power if Barnier emerges victorious from the packed right-wing field.

Left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon has described Biden as his most important ally in forcing global corporations to pay their taxes.

But his run for the top job in 2017 saw him pledge to quit NATO and refuse French involvement in any military interventions without a United Nations mandate—two commitments that would badly undermine America's foreign policy.

Melenchon also recently condemned Macron for having "capitulated unconditionally" to Biden over the submarine dispute and thus humiliating France.

The submarine dispute between Washington, D.C. and Paris is the latest chapter in a longer degradation of ties between the two republics, sparked by the French refusal to take part in the disastrous American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It will have lasting consequences, wrote Sylvie Kauffmann, the editorial director of France's leading daily newspaper, Le Monde, in The New York Times: "This is a crisis, not a spat. French officials say they have been stonewalled and duped by close allies, who negotiated behind their backs."

Biden came to office pledging to revitalize ties with America's traditional allies, and clean up the diplomatic mess left by his predecessor. But in the EU's two most important capitals, his administration faces an uncertain and difficult future.

Joe BIden EU leaders Macron Merkel G7
French President Emmanuel Macron, Queen Elizabeth II, President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrive at a reception during the G7 Summit on June 11, 2021 in St Austell, Cornwall, U.K. Jack Hill - WPA Pool / Getty Images