With Joe Biden’s presidential victory, a collective sigh was released throughout the western world. However, nowhere was this projected further than in Ireland, the ancestral home of the president-elect, where on Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin displayed a nations delight in a ‘warm and engaging’ congratulatory call to his soon to be American counterpart.
Later statements from both leaders exhibited their shared stance on mitigating the impacts of Brexit, where Biden once again re-affirmed his support for the Good Friday Agreement and opposition to the return of a hard border on the island.
In a promising start to this new active phase of US-Irish engagement, the president-elect, a proud Irish-American who has family roots in both Co. Mayo and Louth and is distantly related to Irish rugby players Rob and Dave Kearney, is reported to have said ‘they will have to hold me back’ when speaking about his desire to journey across the pond in the course of his term in office.
The importance of Biden’s victory cannot be overstated for Ireland, as his rise to the Presidency may serve to add an extra dimension to the Brexit trade talks. Biden will prioritise Irish issues and at this stage has been well quoted on his stance that any future US-UK trade agreement would be contingent upon respect for the Good Friday Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border.
In soon-to-be former President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost a politically like-minded, if not transactionally inclined friend. As such, it may be time to pause for thought in Westminster. Bluster, as well as the abrasive rhetoric of breaking international law, now seems less attractive, with pragmatism and compromise increasingly acceptable.
Speaking to Dublin Bay North TD, Richard Bruton, he reflected that “there is no doubt that Biden’s victory will add pressure” and that it does “tilt the balance” in favour of coming to some sort of agreement.
In a far cry from the Trump administrations isolationist ‘America First’ approach, Biden will also look to re-establish US presence in worldwide affairs. He will approach solutions to issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change from a multilateral perspective. Having a more shared worldview than the current president, the Democrat will do so from a position of mutual respect and friendship in dealing with collective concerns.
By making climate action a centre-piece of his campaign, Biden also plans to re-introduce America into the Paris Agreement, in addition to reversing several other Trump era policies. However, it remains to be seen to what extent Biden can bring the country with him domestically. Many in the US, and in particular, those in the industrialised ‘rust-belt’ states, still hold some scepticism and feel especially threatened by the impact any climate agenda may have on them economically.
Nevertheless, Bruton, a former Minister for the Environment, Communications and Climate Action, believes that as the Paris agreement now looks set to be confronted year on year. The arrival of a Biden administration will present a ‘profoundly important shift’, and represents a ‘good day’ for those wishing to tackle climate change.
At a worldwide level, America now seems ready to retake a strong leadership role and revitalise its global standing. As a precursor to doing so, it is highly anticipated that they will re-engage in an era of multilateral and friendlier interactions, principally with their allies in Europe.
Unlike Trump, Biden looks likely to focus on foreign policy issues of shared importance. Climate change and COVID-19 will be emphasised, although, Biden will also propose to repair alliances in the hope of negotiating several agreements, in addition to protecting the Iran nuclear deal. With Ireland taking up its two-year term on the United Nations Security Council in 2021, this partnership between the two nations will prove particularly important.
However, as the Director of UCD’s Clinton Institute, Prof. Liam Kennedy explained, this is not to say that transatlantic relations will return to the same old years of the past. He told The College Tribune that “Trump made matters worse, but there were already existing pressures between transatlantic co-operation” before he took office.
Many of these tensions stem from longstanding disputes on defence, where Biden will urge his EU allies to spend more on security, while realising the importance of organisations such as NATO.
Stephen Kennedy – Politics Correspondent