Podcast: Problems Passing on the Torch
12 October 2021
Summary of the video chat meeting on the US presidential election and the response from Central Europe held on 13 November 2020 with analysis based on the election results and a discussion about what a Biden-Harris presidency means for the region.
On Saturday 7 November Joseph R. Biden Jr. secured enough votes to make him President-elect of the United States of America and make Kamala Harris the first female Vice-President-elect. Central Europe responses to their electoral victory have been cautious, as there is some wariness among political leaders.
From Biden and Harris’ side, during the campaign, Biden stated that “America First’ has made America alone” and expressed their intention to re-engage with the world, simply with the old allies in Europe.
During a recent Visegrad Insight Transatlantic Breakfast meeting, on 13 November 2020, we discussed the victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris and how it has lead to different reactions from Central Europe
Susan Corke, Director of the Transatlantic Democracy Working Group and Senior Fellow at GMF, Washington, DC
Professor Bogdan Góralczyk, Director of the Centre for Europe at the University of Warsaw; former Ambassador of the Republic of Poland
The conversation started by Susan Corke addressing what has been the political and social environment in the United States in the aftermath of the last presidential election. Corke describes the immediate general celebration and joy felt in Washington D.C. where she is currently located, but this reaction was not unified throughout the country, and this division is one of the inheritances of the next Bide-Harris Presidency.
Moreover, the response from US President Donald Trump and his allies has been worrying, since they have questioned the validity of the election and tried to contest the electoral procedure. Even admitting that it will not be a simple task to bring the US back to the world stage as a key player, there is a sense of optimism due to the upcoming Biden-Harris administration.
In fact, there is a consensus on what role the US should have in foreign policy. In general, Susan Corke stressed the urgency for unity.
From his part, Professor Bogdan Góralczyk approaches the response from Central Europe to the election result and the mixed reactions. Góralczyk explains how he sees this a transitional and exciting period, observing some commonalities with the US: division lines and polarisation both in the domestic scene and between countries.
An illustration of this has been the different reactions or lack thereof of the Hungarian and Poland leadership to the Biden-Harris victory. Indeed, we are observing in Central Europe the fight between illiberal and liberal democracies.
With the upcoming negotiations in the European Union (EU) institutions, for instance, the EU budget, and the future transatlantic agenda this democratic division will become more evident. Nonetheless, the Professor believes that even with different approaches, it will be possible to move forward.
Since the election results have been officially announced there have been two noticeable developments in Central Europe: illiberal and faulty democracies might have reached their glass ceiling with the end of the Trump presidency and new dangers might still appear for democracies, as leaders such as Victor Órban still intend to go ahead with their vision.
Susan Corke shares concern on the last point presented since the current American administration has not shared or supported the future Biden-Harris administration, which is a standard procedure, but these fears are mitigated by the fact that Biden is a highly experienced politician.
The time following the presidential elections is described as ‘awkward’ because the outgoing US president has been purging his own administration, a very dangerous move, also head figures like Mike Pompeo have been sending mixed messages to the world.
This confusion and dangerous period also come with slow or a lack of responses to the Biden-Harris victory and what that entails.
Concerning Russia there has been expediting a crackdown on American journalists in the country, this happens since Russian President Vladimir Putin understands that for the moment there are no real consequences. On Belarus, President-elect Biden is prepared to have a good policy with support for the people and fair elections.
However, there is little that US President-elect Biden legally can do, for now, a period which is critical for Belarus as Lukashenko has become more defiant and increased the violence against the people.
Thus, the Belarusian look to Biden for support in their fight for freedom. Many countries in Central Europe have played an essential role in the support of the Belarusian people, such as the case of Poland. The international community should provide long-term support to the Belarusian people.
In Central Europe, the future appears to hold challenges for democracy and weakened transatlantic relations. Bogdan Góralczyk admits this is indeed a peculiar moment.
However, the situation in Poland appears to be less concerning since one of the pillars of the country’s foreign policy is the transatlantic relation. Hungary is a more worrisome case because Hungary’s prime minister was not prepared for Trump’s loss in the election. The future in Europe also appears troublesome with the future negotiations of the EU budget and rule of law, which will entail financial punishment for both Poland and Hungary.
In response, two member state governments have threatened to veto the impending budget, something not used previously. It is hard to know what will happen and everything is in front of us, it will all depend on how the leadership will behave.
There are also other events emerging in the globe, like the vast ASEAN and China trade deal, without any participation from the USA and the freedoms the European Union enjoys, such as the free movement of people.
Indeed, the US has been absent of the key recent moments in the world and there a considerable number of worrisome developments around Central Europe and little action on them.
Nonetheless, the Bogdan Góralczyk has the same assurance as Susan Corke: US President-elect Biden is surrounded by a very experienced team in foreign policy and he himself is very well-prepared for what is coming.