From this first question, many others arise. Which countries should be invited-and what should be the criteria? Should Ukraine be invited, while Hungary and Poland are excluded? What about India, Brazil, and Mexico? What topics would be on the agenda, and what would be the intended results? Finally, should it be a single summit, or should it be a process that involves a series of meetings? On this point, Biden’s article indicates a preference for a series of meetings. Drawing inspiration from the Nuclear Security Summits convened by the Obama administration between 2010 and 2016, the former Vice President suggests that the countries involved would participate on the basis of concrete commitments, the fulfillment of which would be assessed from one meeting to the next. It is not certain, however, that the subject of democracy, which is significantly broader than that of nuclear safety, would lend itself to this kind of approach.
In any case, there are a number of options open to the new US administration along a spectrum ranging from the idea of "summits for democracy" - a relatively broad forum concerned with addressing the internal crises of democratic institutions - all the way along to the concept of a smaller and potentially more divisive group, an "alliance of democracies", with a clearly anti-authoritarian and particularly anti-China agenda.
Where does that put Europe and France?
Let's be clear: the temptation for systematic leadership on democracies is consubstantial with America as we knew it before 2016. However, this does not mean it is in France’s interest to reject any initiatives proposed by the future Biden administration. A negative, neo-Gaullist approach on our part would not be useful in tackling the foreign policy issues of today.
The context of the emerging 2020s obviously differs from that of the 2000s. We now face undeniable internal and external threats to democratic institutions themselves, with the United States itself currently experiencing an existential crisis. It is said that their elites are moving further and further away from Europe, but a phenomenon-perhaps temporary - can also be seen: the need to regain a certain "companionship" with the continent that is the source of American civilization. Moreover, Europeans cannot grumble about a returning America after the bitter complaints surrounding its withdrawal under Trump. Collaborating on a US democracy initiative can help to build trust with the new administration.
As far as France is concerned, two particular elements should push us in this direction. Firstly, the reported sense amongst those close to the future administration is that the concept of a summit "for" democracy is the one currently gaining momentum. If The French want to give themselves the maximum chance of influencing this debate, they must agree to a summit of this kind in principle. This would best enable them to get the message across that such an initiative cannot promote coercion, nor constitute an openly anti-Chinese alliance, nor divide the Atlantic Alliance or the European Union. Nor should it be seen as an alternative to the "Alliance for Multilateralism" launched by Germany and France.
The second element is the fact that Europeans, and more particularly the French, have experience and expertise to offer. For example, two of the specific cooperation themes envisaged by Joe Biden in the Foreign Affairs article concerned the fight against corruption and the overall responsibility of digital platforms. These two themes correspond to struggles that were first taken up by Europeans long ago (e.g., the fight against tax havens or, more recently, the conditionality linked to the rule of law within the EU) and especially by the French in the second case, as demonstrated by the Christchurch and Paris Appeals. On similar issues vital to restoring confidence in democracy, such as the fight against inequality or the battle against misinformation, Europeans have demonstrable experience, even if there is still much room for improvement.
As for implementation, the intention of the new US administration is to introduce representatives of civil society-NGOs, businesses, other non-state actors - to the invited countries’ delegations, as has become common practice since the method was first introduced within the UN framework. In this area, the French can bring perhaps unequaled expertise: they showed their know-how at COP 21 in 2015, which they have also deployed in a different form with the Paris Peace Forum. Moreover, during their last G7 presidencies, including at Biarritz in 2019, they have opened up to other countries such as India, as well as to African and Latin American states. However, preventing Biden’s initiative from being seen as yet another reconstitution of the "league of white men" remains a challenge.