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Difficult year for Biden, Luxembourg hails strong alliance



President Joe Biden, pictured on the campaign trail in 2020, has seen a difficult first year in office, marred by the covid-19 pandemic, the Afghanistan withdrawal, difficulty getting Senate support on key legislation and high inflation paired with the global supply chain crisis Photo: Shutterstock

President Joe Biden, pictured on the campaign trail in 2020, has seen a difficult first year in office, marred by the covid-19 pandemic, the Afghanistan withdrawal, difficulty getting Senate support on key legislation and high inflation paired with the global supply chain crisis Photo: Shutterstock

As Joe Biden starts his second year in office, his administration faces a raft of challenges--from Ukraine and the pandemic to high inflation--but on the ground in Luxembourg bilateral cooperation has continued at a steady pace.

Biden was sworn in on 20 January 2021 after a divisive election that saw a mob of Donald Trump supporters storm the US capitol on 6 January. But his approval rating has dropped to just 41% after one year and Democrats face an uphill battle in the upcoming midterm elections.

“The Biden administration has been a disappointment, both domestically and internationally. But the alternative would have been far worse,” said Josip Glaurdic, a political scientist at the University of Luxembourg.

The Afghanistan withdrawal, for example, was “a disaster of epic proportions,” Glaurdic said. Had it happened in 2023, “Biden would have lost the election.”

The president has also struggled to gain full support from his own party on key spending bills, such as the Build Back Better programme, suggesting during a press conference on Wednesday that it might be broken up into smaller pieces of legislation to get at least parts of it through the Senate.

Voting rights reforms are also failing as Democrat senators for Arizona and West Virginia--Kyrsten Sistema and Joe Manchin--on Wednesday night joined Republicans in voting against the proposed federal voting rights legislation, effectively killing the bill as The Washington Post put it. “The Democrats have this thin majority,” said Glaurdic. “But in actuality, when it comes to policy, they don’t.”

As Biden on Wednesday spoke of a “year of challenges”, the EU received nary a mention in a nearly two-hour speech, except as a divided ally in the Ukraine crisis. “The EU is definitely lower on the list of priorities,” said Glaurdic. “The United States calls on the EU when it needs a global partner. But in and of itself, the EU--let’s be honest--isn’t that important to the United States anymore.”

New ambassador incoming

On the ground in Luxembourg, however, the sentiment of alliance is going strong.

“Luxembourg remains in an enviable position as a preferred partner on many levels,” said Paul Schonenberg, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) in the grand duchy. “There is a high degree of cooperation and agreement related to the financial sector, space, digital activities, political and defence issues.”

Rather than a sea-change in the wake of last year’s departure of US ambassador Randy Evans, appointed by Trump, there has been “very positive and solid consistency of Transatlantic cooperation over this past year of US/Luxembourg bilateral relations,” Schonenberg said. And while business relations have been slow, the Amcham CEO expects them to pick up at the covid-19 pandemic recedes.

“If anything, perhaps the dialogue of this ongoing stable bilateral relationship is a bit more calm, a bit softer and more gentle. As a result, people at all levels are a bit more relaxed... and this is certainly a good thing,” he said.

Bilaterally and in Nato, Luxembourg remains a key international partner
Casey Mace

Casey MaceChargé d’affairesUS embassy in Luxembourg

“As president Biden said shortly after taking office, America’s alliances are our greatest asset. This administration has made reaffirming and revitalising those alliances a top priority to advance common values, global security, and shared prosperity,” said the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires Casey Mace in a statement.

“Bilaterally and in Nato, Luxembourg remains a key international partner and as is more clear now than ever, standing together to support peace, freedom, and security in Europe and North America requires close cooperation among allies.”

Luxembourg and the US in January joined the UN Human Rights Council, the US for its fourth term while it’s the first mandate for the grand duchy. The US has also rejoined the Paris climate agreement.

“In the frontier of space, we continue to bolster our technological partnerships, pursue a return to the moon under the Artemis project, and the Embassy hosted several high-level visits to Luxembourg, including by head of US chief of space operations General Raymond,” said Mace. “We have achieved a lot together this past year and will continue to build on those successes as we welcome US ambassador-designate [Tom] Barrett early this year.”

Barrett is the mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin--a state that is historically tied to Luxembourg as it became home to a large emigrant community in the 19th century--and was confirmed by the Senate in December last year. Barrett is expected in Luxembourg at the end of January and the embassy has said it is hopeful he will present his credentials to the grand duke by mid-February.

“As a big city mayor, he appears to be ideally suited to be a perfect fit to understand and contribute to Luxembourg/US relations, to move things forward from the present situation of strength and good will to an even better level,” said Schonenberg.

Bouncing back

At home, Biden has faced criticism over his recent handling of the covid-19 pandemic, admitting on Wednesday that his administration should have acted earlier to provide testing kits to Americans. “We’re doing more now,” he said.  

While the pandemic rages on, soaring inflation--with consumer prices up 7% in December compared to last year--and supply chain snags are weighing on households.

Previous presidents managed to bounce back from difficult first years.

“Bill Clinton’s first year in office was a disaster. His health care bill failed. Bosnia was a disaster. He lost the mid-terms badly. It was a train wreck. He turned it around and into more of a successful presidency, won re-election easily, found some modus vivendi with even the Republicans in Congress,” said Glaurdic.

“The first year in office isn’t necessarily decisive,” he added. “That said, there needs to be something on the horizon that can allow us to think that the remaining three years are going to be different. And I don’t know that there is.”

The internal division between Democrats meanwhile is benefitting Republicans who have remained fairly united around former president Trump. “The Republican electorate is motivated. The Democrats were motivated in 2020. It was a referendum on Trump. It was no love affair with Biden,” said Glaurdic about the upcoming midterms. “The biggest hope that the Democrats can have is that the Republicans shoot themselves in the foot.”