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Welcome to the summits galore. Here’s your ultimate cheat sheet for Biden’s Tour d’Europe.
The US President comes to Europe with the main message that Washington is once again ready to lead the free world, and that he aims to mend what his predecessor Trump broke.
Biden’s trip will “give his foreign policy the decisive boost: to bring the democracies of the world together so that they can tackle the great challenges of our time”, his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters before the trip.
In Europe, however, the realisation has come that after four acrimonious years under the Trump administration, Biden’s arrival will not make the challenges go away, and especially not overnight.
Europeans are expected to give Biden a warm welcome, but this will not hide the fact that there are more than enough conflict issues in transatlantic relations.
We’ll give you a small guide about the ins and outs of the next few days.
REPORTS, REPORTS. Before we dive into summit specifics, some numbers first.
→ The German Marshall Fund’s “Transatlantic Trends” survey shows mixed views of US reliability across Europe: In contrast to a strikingly low 51% in Germany, Poland has the most trust in the US (76%). While the US is seen as the most influential, it is not seen as the most reliable partner. Instead, it is Canada, with Germany and Sweden tied in second place.
There is strong support for more economic cooperation among the US and the EU: almost three-quarters of Americans (74%) and in EU member states (72%) are in favour of strengthening economic ties across the Atlantic.
One thing remains the same: A majority of Europeans still expects the US should be somewhat or very involved in Europe’s defence and security, except in Turkey and Sweden. There is a notable increase from 2020 in French and German (10 points).
→ A second study by the Pew Research Center has found that that American reputation in the world has recovered “dramatically” with the transition from Trump to Biden in the 16 countries surveyed (including Germany, France, Italy, Japan, UK and Canada).
An average of 75% of respondents said they had confidence in Biden, compared to Trump in 2020 (17%).
→ The latest Munich Security Report, more heavy on policy content, described the dilemma of Western democracies being increasingly challenged, particularly by China, (no surprise here!). The US and the EU, it states, should work together to confront autocracies like China and Russia and “must no longer shy away from competing with illiberal competition”.
After an identity crisis over the past years, NATO leaders will gather in Brussels at a summit on Monday (14 June) to re-orient the alliance, sandwiched between the G7 summit in Britain and an EU–US summit right after.
Since taking office, Biden has made efforts to reassure European allies about America’s commitment to multilateralism, by hailing NATO as a ‘cornerstone of transatlantic security’ and reversing Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Germany.
But has the transatlantic rift caused under Trump vanished?
The biggest challenge for the summit? EUARCTIV spoke to a number of current and former officials and think-tankers. Main answer: Trust.
Read the in-depth summit preview here:
CHINA SNEAK-PEAK. The agenda is packed: NATO2030 reforms, initial discussion of an update to NATO’s Strategic Concept, Russia/Belarus as well as the allied withdrawal from Afghanistan.
On Biden’s top political priority, China, NATO’s roughly 40-page-long summit communiqué, seen by EURACTIV, will have much stronger language than it ever had before.
“There is a growing divergence between Beijing’s coercive policies and our values,” the draft communiqué will likely state.
However, diplomatic sources told EURACTIV that while the US was pushing hard to have a strong wording on China, Europeans were more reluctant, because while China is a ‘challenge’, Russia is a ‘threat’. In translation: Putting Moscow and Beijing into the same basket would create a bad atmosphere.
Europeans believe there is no ‘evidence’ about China’s future intentions, but on the other hand, Russia has proven its aggressiveness, both in Ukraine and Georgia.
The same diplomatic sources also stressed that likewise, NATO cannot appear ‘out of the blue’ in the Indo-Pacific.
However, 14 mostly ex-Soviet and Balkan members, which are closer to the US position when it comes to China – even if there is a direct conflict of interests – align with Washington because, for them, only the US can save them from Russian aggressiveness, the diplomatic sources said.
TURKEY WOES. Ankara will be the elephant in the room as Biden will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a bilateral chat.
NATO partners’ trust in Erdoğan has been critically damaged over the past. Problems are piling up: first the issue with the Russian S-400 missile system, incompatible with NATO systems, then Ankara’s disruptive behaviour in the Eastern Mediterranean and, most recently, with the NATO statement on Belarus.
Erdogan knows that the West’s dependence on him is huge, considering that the escalation in relations with Russia might increase, and losing Erdogan is a no-go. In a nutshell, NATO cannot afford to break with Erdogan.
So, Biden will have to square the circle of pointing the finger and reminding Erdogan of the need to be constructive, while emphasising Turkey’s critical importance to NATO.
According to the draft communiqué, seen by EURACTIV, the leaders’ statement will also include a reference to increased consultations between allies and work towards higher accountability when it comes to internal conflicts.
“We commit to reinforce consultations when the security or stability of an ally is threatened or when our fundamental values and principles are at risk,” NATO leaders will likely say.
The passage does not specify whether those refer to external or internal threats, which would basically mean both. Worth keeping in mind the escalating Turkey-Greece tensions.
GLOBAL NATO? The West’s recent pivot towards Asia has heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific. As NATO leaders are looking to update the alliance’s official master strategy document, its “Strategic Concept”, a more global role for the alliance seems to be emerging.
“In a world of sophisticated hybrid threats, cyberattacks, economic coercion and strategic corruption, NATO can no longer be confined by geography,” former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told EURACTIV.
At the same time, “when we talk about China, it is no longer a country in a too distant geographical location, China is present everywhere in Europe,” Tacan Ildem, a former NATO ambassador and member of the NATO2030 reflection group, told EURACTIV ahead of the June summit, on the sidelines of a NATO Defense College Foundation event.
YOUNG LEADERS. The spotlight will also be on some fresher ideas. A group of 14 emerging leaders from across the NATO member states, the NATO 2030 Young Leaders, have provided Stoltenberg with input for NATO’s 2030 reflection process towards the final document.
“NATO started to take really seriously its youth and public outreach and they are already reaping the rewards from the efforts made in the last years to open up this intimidating military alliance,” Tania Latici, co-coordinator of the NATO2030 Young Leader group, told EURACTIV.
“Youth involvement and outreach should be seen as a security concern because if the new generations do not see the value of NATO or lack this understanding, their voting patterns or decisions as leaders themselves will be reflective of that,” she added.
DIVE DEEPER HERE:
On the EU side, the transatlantic construction sites also loom large, but the general mood remains upbeat.
While not all conflict baggage from the past has been resolved, “the new US administration clearly pursues a cooperative approach with the European Union and its traditional allies,” MEP David McAllister (EPP), head of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told EURACTIV.
He said that a positive trade agenda could particularly serve to enhance trust between the EU and the US.
However, in the past few months, critics have pointed out that Brussels should not place too much hope in Biden as the focus will not stay on Europe for too long and be gradually more focussed on the new real adversary China, once Europeans are reassured of US commitment.
“On the EU side, there is a suspicion, which seems to be particularly strongly felt by Mrs Merkel, that this new love by Washington for transatlantic cooperation may not be a reliable bet in the long term,” German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens) said.
So what will be the message?
Both sides “intend to (i) end the COVID-19 pandemic, prepare for future global health challenges and drive forward a sustainable global recovery; (ii) protect our planet and foster green growth; (iii) strengthen trade, investment and technological cooperation; and (iv) build a more democratic, peaceful and secure world,” a draft summit communique, seen by EURACTIV, will say, plus a commitment to a revival of multilateralism.
(GEO-)POLITICS, OF COURSE: China, Russia on their minds. There are a number of bones of contention between the two sides, such as the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and the US suggestion to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines, which the EU has rejected.
An interesting caveat is Washington’s turn towards European defence. According to the draft communique, the EU and the US are considering a deal to further strengthen EU-US defence cooperation, which could entail the US starting to cooperate with the European Defence Agency (EDA) on more military projects than the one recently sealed.
Biden has plenty to discuss with the Europeans on the subject of Moscow before heading to Geneva, especially after the Ryanair hijacking and Belarus case. European allies will expect that Biden will use his personal meeting with Putin to try to ratchet up pressure on Alexander Lukashenko, as Moscow is critical to holding Lukashenko accountable – but Putin is unlikely to endorse any effort to do so.
China, however, will be the elephant in the room. In some ways, stakeholders have suggested that Europe has asserted its ‘strategic autonomy‘ from Washington, at least when it comes to relations with Beijing, by reaching a “Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” (CAI) with Beijing, at least in principle.
Before it took office, the new Biden administration had asked Europe for coordination on China, but the EU push might have made the complete reparation of EU-US relations a bit more difficult.
However, Europeans are unlikely to buckle on Beijing ties too much: European Council President Charles Michel defended Brussels’ troubled effort to negotiate the deal, which has been delayed by recent rows about human rights sanctions.
TRADE: Tariff reckoning ahead. This will be a major point on the summit agenda, both sides are eager to relaunch the bilateral cooperation after years of disputes. EU officials emphasise that they hope next week will bring progress and de-escalation in resolving US-EU trade disputes, on steel tariffs and the long-running clash over subsidies to aeroplane manufacturers. On the latter, Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said this week there should be “a clear signal” sent to the US side of Europe’s willingness to solve this issue “in a fair and balanced way”, as Brussels suspended the automatic doubling of EU’s countermeasures that should have kicked in this month.
At the same time, Europe wants to forge an alliance with the US to cooperate on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) reform to update the global trade rulebook, including to better address China’s industrial subsidies.
Brussels has also proposed setting up a Trade and Technology Council for better transatlantic cooperation, officials hope that the new body will give a new transatlantic footing to keep pace with China.
– Jorge Valero, Economy Editor
DIGITAL: EU-US data transfer saga comes to a head. The Schrems II ruling led to frightful uncertainty for businesses operating on both sides of the Atlantic. Economic pressure to reach an agreement could hardly be higher, as the risk is the disruption of the largest trade exchange in the world. The European Commission cannot afford a Schrems III (can it?) and has made clear that the onus is on the US to change its surveillance laws, something Washington has so far refused to do. Which concessions the new US administration is willing to give remains to be seen. For more on this, have a listen to this week’s Digital Brief podcast.
– Luca Bertuzzi, Digital Editor
ENVIRONMENT: Look out for the climate entente. When it comes to green diplomacy, Europe and the US will no doubt celebrate their newly-found entente on climate change. In Brussels, the European Commission quickly followed up on Biden’s election last year by proposing a “transatlantic green trade agenda,” saying the two sides “can lead the world” towards a greener economy.
Brussels and Washington share a common interest in pressuring China to up the ante at the UN climate summit in November. Beijing is accused of environmental dumping in goods such as steel, and the EU is preparing proposals for a carbon border tariff in July, which is widely expected to hit Chinese manufacturers.
What Europe and the US could envisage is to “work together to set a global template for such measures,” the Commission said, calling for a joint EU-US “trade and climate initiative” at the World Trade Organisation.
But while Biden is not outright opposed to the EU’s carbon tariff plan, Washington did raise concerns about potential “serious implications” for trade. Unlike Europe, the US has no harmonised price on carbon and is likely to be targeted by the EU tariff unless it can prove its climate policies are comparable to Europe’s.
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans has acknowledged the US goal of cutting emission 50-52% by 2030, and signalled the Commission’s readiness to give America time to adjust.
“All this would hopefully lead to an understanding that there is a level playing field, and therefore adjustment at the border would not be necessary,” Timmermans told EURACTIV in a recent interview.
– Frederic Simon, Environment Editor
AGRIFOOD: An olive (oil) branch. In October 2019, the US announced punitive tariffs on EU agri-food products to the tune of billions of euros worth of agri products, after the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled in their favour over EU subsidies for the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
This then saw the EU retaliate with tariffs of their own, sparking a trade tariff war which was top of the agenda the moment Biden took office.
On the very day of Biden’s inauguration in January, European lawmakers wasted no time in urging the European Commission to settle for good the trade dispute with the US that has soured transatlantic relations in recent years.
Recently, a temporary 4-month suspension of tariffs was widely celebrated in the agriculture community, but a question mark hung over whether this brief reprieve would turn into a permanent arrangement.
And it now seems likely it will, according to Bloomberg, who reported this week that a draft of the conclusions ahead of an EU-US summit indicates that the two will commit to ending outstanding trade battles and remove tariffs before the end of the year.
This will be music to the ears of the EU agrifood sector, and an olive (oil) branch from the Biden administration to the EU, especially as it is no secret that the two administrations don’t see eye to eye when it comes to the EU’s green push on sustainability in the sector.
113 organisations urge decision-makers to lift retaliatory tariffs on products unrelated to the current trade disputes. Lifting tariffs will help both economies recover from the COVID pandemic.
– Natasha Foote, AgriFood reporter
WHAT DO THINKERS THINK?
ONE LAST THING…
BLUE GAZE. Belgium has hosted NATO for more than 50 years, since 1967 to be precise. If you need a break from summitry in the evenings, Brussels landmarks go NATO blue for the summit and Brussels’ most iconic little man will be dressed in a NATO-branded outfit on 14 June. Here’s the European Quarter money shot.
And if you want to get in touch over coffee, beer or phone to share your views with yours truly, hit me up here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
EU IN THE WORLD
UNANIMITY STRIKES AGAIN. And yet again, the untamed monster of unanimity is rearing its head again. German foreign minister Heiko Maas awakened it this week, saying that the EU should abolish unanimity in its foreign policymaking and not allow itself to be “held hostage”, after several incidents in recent months derailed the bloc’s joint positions on a series of foreign policy matters.
Unsurprisingly, it did not take long for Hungary to react as both countries publicly locked horns over how the EU’s foreign policy should be conducted. Conclusion? The saga is likely to be continued.
CUBA DEALINGS. EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, defended before the European Parliament the ratification and implementation of a political dialogue agreement with Cuba, after a leaked email had suggested close proximity between some Socialist EU lawmakers and the Cuban regime.
NATO DRIFT. Montenegro, a small Adriatic country, joined NATO in 2017, completing the alliance’s military domination of the Balkan peninsula’s Western shore. Recent press reports, however, began questioning the intentions of the new government.
But its defence minister, Olivera Injac, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview that allegations of a cooling relationship between Montenegro and NATO are nothing but disinformation and fake news.
BALKAN SANCTIONS? Sanctions for the Western Balkans are not on the agenda, the European Commission said after US President Joe Biden signed an order blocking property and banning entry to the country of those “contributing to the destabilising situation in the” region.
MLADIC SENTENCE. Wartime Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić, dubbed the “butcher of Bosnia”, lost the final appeal in the genocide conviction against him before the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT) in The Hague, prompting a wide range of reactions in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.
DUTCH ‘JA‘? The Dutch government has presented a report this week about the start of EU membership talks with Albania to parliament. Despite some more positive notes, the Dutch government emphasises that some priorities set by the EU leaders in their conclusions of March 2020 still have not been achieved.
ENERGY TRANSITION. As the EU adopts tougher climate goals for 2030, aiming for net-zero emissions by mid-century, the bloc’s next-door neighbours in the Western Balkans are struggling to keep up and face growing difficulties in the transition to a green economy. Western Balkan countries are ‘milking coal power plants until the bitter end’, an official told EURACTIV.
RAISED STAKES. Belarusian strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko this week signed legislation toughening protest laws, raising the stakes, and the likelihood of a crackdown following his disputed re-election last year.
At the same time, Belarusian activists in Lithuania staged a rally aiming to block traffic heading to and from Belarus via the Medininkai border crossing, in a bid to put pressure on the regime in Minsk to open borders, and calling for stricter EU sanctions.
HUMAN RIGHTS. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a decree “On further measures of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the field of human rights”, which he said represents another step in the political modernisation of the Central Asian country.
WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING
ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…
Europe’s everyday business is still stuck in lockdown reality, until further notice. We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as Europe is slowly moving towards summer break.
- G7 summit
| Fri-Sat, 11-12 June 2021 | Cornwall, UK
- NATO summit
| Monday, 14 June 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
- European Parliament’s AFET Committee
| Mo-Tue, 14-15 June 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
- EU-US summit
| Tuesday, 15 June 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
- Biden-Putin summit
| Wednesday, 16 June 2021 | Geneva, Switzerland
- European Parliament’s SEDE Committee
| We-Thu, 15-16 June 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
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