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Biden and the foreign policy challenges awaiting his administration

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Despite electoral challenges and unprecedented obstruction by the losing side, the US has elected its new president. The upcoming Biden presidency promises a return to traditional foreign policy, after four years of 'America first' and ever-so-cold transatlantic relations, writes Cameron Munter, former US ambassador to Pakistan and to Serbia and former CEO and president of the EastWest Institute.

"America is back" Biden recently tweeted; a call that almost immediately echoed throughout Brussels, European Ministries and across US democratic strongholds. To make facts meet rhetoric, however, will undoubtedly take more time.

The Trump presidency was marked by an overt rejection of multilateralism, best exemplified by its constant criticism of the UN, for which it repeatedly threatened to, and did, cut funding, and the US withdrawal from both the Paris agreement and the Iran deal.

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This distancing led to a reshuffle in internal relations, with Chancellor Merkel even declaring that Europe could no longer rely on the US for "protection", in a clear break from the post-War, Marshall Plan fuelled, entanglement of the US with the Old Continent.

The Biden administration's first port of call will be to ensure this divide was only temporary. Efforts are already under way, with the President-Elect's first official calls having been to key European leaders.

What may prove more difficult to fix, however, is the power vacuum the last administration has left behind. A power vacuum that other international players have exploited, none more than Russia.

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Indeed, the Trump Presidency has been marked by a move away from the confrontational, Cold-War-inherited relationship with Moscow, to make way for what was always thought to be an unlikely pairing. Most Americans will remember watching their President, in Moscow, rejecting conclusions from his own intelligence community to absolve Russia of any electoral interference.

But Trump's America was not so much an ally to Putin's Russia as it was a weak opponent. This perceived weakness emboldened Moscow's stances both towards NATO and in the various regional conflicts that plague the former Soviet sphere.

The Biden administration's greatest challenge will be to re-establish a power dynamic, both with Moscow and the international community, that helps curtail Russia's expansionist policy.

While Moscow's destabilization of Ukraine was met with sanctions and US troops in Kiev; Washington has not been consistent in its other responses. The situation in Belarus was left to escalate, with the US gingerly trying to nudge the former Soviet state toward new elections without provoking Moscow. Most recently, the U.S was left to play second fiddle in Nagorno-Karabakh, assisting Russia's role as an intermediary whilst taking shots at a NATO ally, Turkey, who has arguably also been emboldened by Trump's leniency.

However, the price paid for a weaker US around the globe is perhaps best exemplified not by a conflict, but by recent developments in Georgia, for years the darling of the Caucasus. An ex-Soviet country on a steady path to democratic reform who recently passed a resolution confirming aspirations to NATO and EU membership, yet progress is quickly coming undone.

Recent elections have seen the ruling party, Georgian Dream, re-elected under controversial circumstances. Georgians have taken the streets to protest voter intimidation, vote buying, and other distortions to the democratic process, which international observers have also called out. Georgian Dream ignores these accusations, comforted in its stance by Pompeo's recent visit, during which the Secretary of State unironically recognized their victory and announced a strengthening of US-Georgia cooperation.

The truth is that, with the US less present, Georgia has been steering away from its democratic path. Georgian Dream has opted to normalize and bolster relations with Moscow, to the widespread unease of the Georgian people. Local NGOs decry a shrinking of civil liberties, with the government seeking to expand its influence over communication channels, information, and citizen data.

The government has even gone as far as expropriating one of the country's leading internet providers, Caucasus Online, from foreign investors that planned to build a fiber-optic pipeline connecting Asia and Europe. This project could turn Georgia into a digital hub for the region, improving internet access for millions of people. But it would also offer an alternative to what are currently exclusively Russian connectivity assets and, after government interference, it is now at risk.

There lies the importance of a strong US engaged in, and committed to, the multilateral world order.

The Trump administration failed to recognize that America's greatness lies in its global positive influence as much as in its domestic affairs. The Biden presidency's biggest challenge will consist in reversing the trend, and re-establishing a multilateral dynamic that keeps Russia, and the democratic drifts it fuels, in check.

Cameron Munter is the former US ambassador to Pakistan and to Serbia and former CEO and president of the EastWest Institute.

European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €231 million in pre-financing to Slovenia

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The European Commission has disbursed €231 million to Slovenia in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's grant allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Slovenia's recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Slovenia's recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €2.5 billion in total, consisting of €1.8bn in grants and €705m in loans, over the lifetime of its plan. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80 billion in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU.

The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states. The Slovenian plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Cyprus

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €157 million in pre-financing to Cyprus

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The European Commission has disbursed €157 million to Cyprus in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's financial allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €1.2 billion in total over the lifetime of its plan, with €1 billion provided in grants and €200m in loans. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80bn in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU. Part of NextGenerationEU, the RRF will provide €723.8bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states.

The Cypriot plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Belgium

EU Cohesion policy: Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy receive €373 million to support health and social services, SMEs and social inclusion

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The Commission has granted €373 million to five European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) operational programmes (OPs) in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy to help the countries with coronavirus emergency response and repair in the framework of REACT-EU. In Belgium, the modification of the Wallonia OP will make available an additional €64.8m for the acquisition of medical equipment for health services and innovation.

The funds will support small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in developing e-commerce, cybersecurity, websites and online stores, as well as the regional green economy through energy efficiency, protection of the environment, development of smart cities and low-carbon public infrastructures. In Germany, in the Federal State of Hessen, €55.4m will support health-related research infrastructure, diagnostic capacity and innovation in universities and other research institutions as well as research, development and innovation investments in the fields of climate and sustainable development. This amendment will also provide support to SMEs and funds for start-ups through an investment fund.

In Sachsen-Anhalt, €75.7m will facilitate cooperation of SMEs and institutions in research, development and innovation, and provide investments and working capital for micro-enterprises affected by the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, the funds will allow investments in the energy efficiency of enterprises, support digital innovation in SMEs and acquiring digital equipment for schools and cultural institutions. In Italy, the national OP ‘Social Inclusion' will receive €90m to promote the social integration of people experiencing severe material deprivation, homelessness or extreme marginalisation, through ‘Housing First' services that combine the provision of immediate housing with enabling social and employment services.

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In Spain, €87m will be added to the ESF OP for Castilla y León to support the self-employed and workers who had their contracts suspended or reduced due to the crisis. The money will also help hard-hit companies avoid layoffs, especially in the tourism sector. Finally, the funds are needed to allow essential social services to continue in a safe way and to ensure educational continuity throughout the pandemic by hiring additional staff.

REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) to Cohesion policy programmes over the course of 2021 and 2022. Measures focus on supporting labour market resilience, jobs, SMEs and low-income families, as well as setting future-proof foundations for the green and digital transitions and a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

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