Swiss reactions to President Biden: A new day, but it’s still ‘America first’

President Biden signed 17 executive orders immediately after taking office including rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and halting the US exit from the World Health Organisation. Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Voices in the Swiss press welcomed signs that the United States’ newly inaugurated, even-toned President Joe Biden is restoring faith in diplomacy and collaboration, but noted that the superpower’s policy remains about “America first”.

This content was published on January 21, 2021 - 11:26

"It's a new day in America," Biden tweeted yesterday morning ahead of his inauguration as the country’s 46th president.

As if former president Donald Trump had never been, wroteExternal link the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger, the political establishment gathered in front of the US Capitol, celebrating a new beginning, a “fresh start”. Joe Biden’s first and biggest mission, added the paper, is to bring the “country back to normal after four years of Trump”.

An editorialExternal link in the French-language Le Temps noted that Biden "has not a second to lose" in breaking with the legacy of his predecessor. 

Immediately after taking office, President Biden issued some 17 executive orders, including rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, halting the US exit from the Geneva-based World Health Organization, ending the entry ban from certain Islamic states and issuing a mask requirement in federal buildings.

Swiss political leaders welcomed the moves. Swiss Ambassador to the US Jacques Pitteloud, who attended the inauguration ceremony, tweeted that he looked forward to working together on shared priorities such as climate change, trade and human rights.

His sentiments were echoed by Swiss Economics Minister Guy Parmelin, who holds the country’s rotating presidency this year.

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An analysis by Swiss public television SRFExternal link noted that both President Biden’s inauguration speech and actions are keeping with his promises of “more cooperation, more reliability, less drama” – a change that many in Europe have been longing to see in US foreign policy.

Domestic focus

But SRF added that one thing remains the same: the inward focus of the US. “An American president - whether his name is Trump or Biden - is pursuing the interests of his country. The US should remain number one economically and militarily”.

The author adds that while Trump called this approach “America first", Biden promises “American Leadership”.

“While Trump relied on going it alone and deals with individual countries, Biden wants to return to the US's old leadership role in the concert of nations.”

In contrast to Trump, Biden sees global organisations as a “means of power” and a way to enforce US interests, the broadcaster stated.

Triumph of democracy

The barricaded Capitol building and muted applause at the inaugural ceremony were reminders of what had taken place on the same premises just two weeks before, noted Le Temps.

“The Capitol is unrecognisable,” said Le Temps’ editorial.External link “ But it is precisely this image of an America under tension, worried, barricading itself, that Joe Biden hopes to sweep away after four years of chaotic presidency.” 

In Geneva, home to numerous international organizations including the World Health Organization, the local paperExternal link said that “America is breathing. The storm is moving away.”

The Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger addedExternal link that in his inaugural address, “Biden attempted to patch up in 21 minutes everything that had broken during the previous four years. It was a long, urgent call for unity.”

Divisions remain

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung addedExternal link that with "conciliatory words and this pompously staged celebration of democracy", Washington is sending a powerful signal to the world – two weeks after the “shameful images” taken in the same place.

But the Swiss media also questioned how easily and quickly the country can recover and move forward from January 6 after years of anger and divisions.

“The embers of the fire that Trump started will glow for a long time. More than half of Republicans think the November election was rigged and thus question the legitimacy of the new president,” wrote the NZZ.

Geneva’s La Tribune de Genève noted that there is a “fine line between reparation and revenge”. Biden’s executive orders can be seen "torpedoing of Donald Trump's mandate,” which the paper notes will make it difficult to rally the former president’s supporters behind the country's new leader.

“The storm will return”.

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