Who’s Biden gonna call after Merkel?

Stefano Stefanini, Italy’s former ambassador to NATO, said that “for the Biden administration it’s China policy above all else, and in that league even Australia delivers more than France.” Russia policy is another problem for France’s competitive position in the Biden administration’s alliance hierarchy.

Downing Street takes a hard line against Russian President Vladimir Putin — still driven by anger at Russian agents conducting the Skripal assassination attempt on British soil in 2018 — Macron, in contrast, sought to invite Russia back to the G-7 table in 2019.

By the end of 2021, Macron may have returned his relationships in Washington to a steady state. But by then, he’ll have Merkel’s successor vying for White House attention.

France will hold the EU’s rotating presidency in the first half of 2022 — a useful platform for political theater — but one that Macron will mostly be forced to use in service of his reelection campaign, where his polling average is 24 percent ahead of the May 2022 French presidential election.

With France flailing and the U.K. out of the EU, Germany remains critical. “[It is] the big player in the room on most issues,” including energy security and how Europe fiscally supports its post-Covid economic recovery, said Anthony Gardner, the former ambassador.

While Germany’s strengths are in the civilian realm, “that is what actually maintains and sustains and propels relationships between countries,” said Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Rather than out-compete its neighbors militarily, the strategic challenge for Germany’s new government is “to provide its European partners with clear-cut ideas about how the EU can compete in a divided and crisis-shaken world,” said Jana Puglierin, head of European Council on Foreign Relation’s Berlin office. “It will need to lead the EU towards a post-dependent Atlanticism.”

What about Brussels?

Amid the chaos and belligerence of the Trump administration, EU governments decided they needed to make a push for “strategic autonomy” from both the U.S. and China. “There is no longer a table in Europe with people waiting for the U.S. to come back and become our leader,” said Shada Islam, a member of the European Policy Centre’s Strategic Council, a non-partisan think tank.

It’s fair to say the concept is loosely defined and poorly funded. But there’s already one big winner: Brussels.

In recent years the EU has established itself as the world’s main digital police force, set the bar for many of climate policies now spreading globally, and has negotiated more than triple the number of trade agreements (46) as the United States (14), making it the undisputed global leader.

“This is the right time to take our autonomy strategy very seriously,” Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares told POLITICO, pointing to the EU sharpening its approach to industrial policy, trade agreements, defense research and Covid recovery plans.

When pressed by POLITICO to choose who Biden should call in Europe, Alexander Stubb, a former prime minister of…

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