In Central Europe, Biden Can Build on Trump’s Record

In Central Europe, Biden Can Build on Trump’s Record
From left, Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Hungarian President Janos Ader and Czech President Milos Zeman, during a summit in the Hel Peninsula, Poland, Feb. 9, 2021 (Photo by Jakub Szymczuk for KPRP via AP Images).

Today, the United States’ relations with Central Europe are at an inflection point. Much of the recent media coverage in the region has focused on how Washington’s influence might wane if President Joe Biden picks a fight with the governments of Hungary and Poland, whose leaders had cultivated close ties with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. On the campaign trail, Biden bemoaned the recent trajectory of democratic decline and the erosion of checks and balances on executive power in those countries. Meanwhile, illiberal leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski are suspicious of Biden’s pledges to make human rights and the rule of law key pillars of U.S. foreign policy, viewing such efforts as affronts to their sovereignty.

As the Atlantic Council’s Petr Tuma noted in December, some observers in Central and Eastern Europe also fear that after a period of “intensified cooperation” under Trump, America could revert back to the era of President Barack Obama, “when many believed Washington (initially) sacrificed the region’s interests in the name of a reset with Moscow.” In reality, though, Biden has given no sign of any such attempt at a reset, signaling he will take a tough approach toward Russia. And even as Biden seeks to reorient U.S. foreign policy away from his predecessor’s approach, the Trump administration has actually left a solid foundation of trust and cooperation for Biden to build upon in Central Europe.

Since 2017, all of the leaders from the “Visegrad Four”—the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland—have visited Washington, while Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, toured each of their capitals. U.S. trade with the region is up across the board, and Washington has signed new security pacts with Poland and Hungary. And all except Budapest have backed Washington’s pressure campaign against the controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

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