Joe Biden is coming face-to-face with a Europe that grew much more powerful during Trump's presidency

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Joe Biden with Emmanuel Macron, Ursula von der Leyen, and  Mario Draghi
US President Joe Biden and France's President Emmanuel Macron speak as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi look on after the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Jonny Weeks/AFP/Getty Images
  • During Donald Trump's presidency, Europe had to take a more active role on the world stage.

  • As President Joe Biden heads to Europe, he comes face-to-face with an EU that is no longer as dependent on the US.

  • That's a good thing, the US and Biden should let Europe take the lead on more global issues.

  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

It may seem paradoxical, but Donald Trump was good for Europe. The former US president did not boost the continent in a typical way - expanding trade or forging closer ties across the Atlantic. His contribution was less direct, but nonetheless important. By abandoning America's diplomatic dominance on the world stage, the former president helped increase the international influence of the European Union and its member states. And as now-President Joe Biden touches down on the continent, he will find a vastly changed power dynamic.

Leaders in Brussels have long lamented how the United States rode roughshod over their plans and preferences. The European Union was a partner, but not treated as an equal by Washington. Often, EU leaders would be informed of, but have no influence on our policies. During the Obama administration, the US even spoke of "pivoting away" from the continent, focusing more time and resources on Asia.

But Trump provided Europe a second chance. The man who promised American greatness, instead delivered the greatest-ever decline in our global standing. The principal beneficiary from our precipitous fall was Europe. The EU became a far more reasonable, reliable foreign friend for many countries. It was their efforts that helped stabilize a worried world. The work they did sustained international institutions during America's withdrawal and against Trump's withering attacks.

It would be a mistake for Biden to act like nothing has changed. Based on conversations I've recently had with European officials, the glow and goodwill his election generated abroad has already started to fade. Our allies are concerned by his relegation of foreign policy problems to the back burner. He seems to prefer disengagement to dealing with difficult challenges. This only serves to strengthen Europe's position and power.

When Air Force One lands on the rugged southern coast of England, the president would be wise to listen more and speak less. The slogans about America being back on the world stage would be best left at home. They sound pretty shallow, especially given how little attention Biden is paying to global issues. Instead, he should encourage others to take the lead, particularly the European Union.

The United States cannot and should not continue to serve as the engine for developing and driving these international initiatives. The Biden administration has to work hand-in-hand with Europe, feeding off their ideas and energy. It will be an adjustment for the Americans, who are used to dominating the diplomatic stage. But, if we are going to make progress towards greater security and stability, managing major global challenges needs to be a multi-party endeavor.

Rebuilding international institutions would be a good place for the Europeans to start. Groups like the United Nations and NATO have been dominated by the United States since their inception and Trump's actions showed how this unilateral focus can be deeply damaging. Striking a better power balance would help these critical institutions survive the next political storm in the United States. As a multilateral organization, the EU is far better suited to reimagining and reforming these bodies.

The EU certainly has its challenges. Seeking consensus among 27 different countries is only slightly easier than trying to select a movie to watch with your family over Thanksgiving. Diversity also has its advantages. They are able to reach out in a variety of ways to more places than a single country could manage.

There are an array of other issues on where it would make sense to have Europe running point. Israel for example, where America has lost a lot of credibility as a neutral arbiter between the parties. The United States has long ignored Africa - it's the only continent Secretary of State Antony Blinken has not visited. Where we have engaged there, it has too often concentrated on security and threats to us, like AIDS and the environment. Europe certainly has more work to do in eradicating the vestiges of colonialism. But, they are more focussed than we are on large-scale, fair, sustainable trade. That's particularly important as China continues to expand its presence in Africa.

Biden has clearly decided to prioritize domestic issues. We therefore need to focus our external energies more efficiently. That is not to say we will ignore or not seek to influence issues. Instead, we should empower our partners, starting with Europe, to take on more responsibility for addressing these challenges.

Where Europe has taken on a larger role, whether with the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, ending the rebellion in Colombia, or more recently resolving Georgia's political crisis, the results have often been encouraging.

We should welcome the EUs taking on a larger share of the major diplomatic duties. If Biden is smart, he can use it to our advantage. He can focus on a few key areas, including China, Central America, and Iran. Meanwhile, our partners across the Atlantic can help in managing a number of other major global threats. Together, we can do a far better job of making the world safe for democracy.

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