Europe asks: Can Biden put his money where his mouth is?

Back in March Brussels and Washington agreed on a ceasefire in a separate long-standing trade dispute between Airbus and Boeing, but could not find a permanent solution.

In some cases, European officials simply have an injured ego. After carrying the torch for multilateralism during the Trump years and making the first serious political push towards net zero emissions and taxing digital giants – they are frustrated that President Climate Envoy John Kerry is making headlines around the world for his climate diplomacy, and angry that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sealed a G-7 deal on a global minimum corporate tax rate before the EU reached internal consensus on the matter.

Officials fear that without stricter, binding national measures on climate limits, all good rhetoric will be devalued. “It is easy to propose climate targets, but what does the target mean without tying them to financial consequences through an emissions trading system?” Said a senior EU official, who asked for anonymity. “In the EU, countries can be fined if they fail to meet their climate targets. Biden is committed to multilateralism, but will you put your money in there? “

When it comes to setting a global corporate tax floor of 15 percent, Europe is the problem. Several governments with extremely low corporate tax rates today, including Hungary, Cyprus and Ireland – Biden’s headquarters and fictitiously America’s strongest ally within the EU – are opposing the G-7 plan. Ireland remains attached to its corporate tax rate of 12.5, and for Paschal Donohoe, Ireland’s Secretary of the Treasury, the fight is far from over.

Play nice with friends

But Some former European and American officials believe the time has come for Europe to step outside of its comfort zone of criticism of Washington and begin a pragmatic partnership with Biden.

Stefano Stefanini, Italy’s former ambassador to NATO, said Biden had mapped out a clear path for engagement. “As always, Europeans get nervous when faced with a proactive US,” he said. Former President Donald Trump paradoxically let Europeans operate in their comfort zone: “teach the Americans”. Now Europe has to show where it wants to lead the relationship: “Biden’s upcoming trip is a help for Europe. It’s very up to us to catch it, ”he said.

Former Ambassador Dan Baer, ​​who served as the Obama administration’s envoy to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, agrees: “The question for Europe is now that you have someone who wants to do real business with you , can you? someone over the table to do the business? “

“This ‘how can we trust you’ line is just an excuse not to dive in,” said Baer, ​​adding that the European leaders who poked Trump’s noses “need to show that working together can pay off “.

“Sure, Trump or Trumpism could come back, but Marine Le Pen could also become France’s next president,” said Stefanini. “If Truman had thought ‘what if Hitlerism returned,’ the Marshall Plan would never have happened,” he added after World War II.

Overall, European officials expressed gratitude that Biden’s first overseas trip was centered on a series of European summits, and diplomats posted to Washington said they were enjoying the return of a stable political process in Washington.

“In Sweden we like predictability and we have it again. When we spoke to one person on a plane under Trump, an hour later this could be overruled by someone else, “said a senior Swedish diplomat.

Get a grip on China

Predictable or not, it has not been overlooked that Biden still has to invest in European diplomatic personnel: the Indo-Pacific team is the National Security Council’s largest political unit, and the residences of the American ambassadors in Europe remain empty.

These decisions in Washington have raised awareness in European capitals that the strength of their relationship with Biden depends largely on how closely they cooperate with the government’s efforts to contain China.

But London and Brussels are still struggling to agree on their own approaches to China, let alone coordinate with Washington.

Brussels undermined its credibility in Washington by rushing to sign an investment agreement with Beijing ahead of Biden’s inauguration, which quickly collapsed. Meanwhile, London vacillates between echoing American concerns and flattering Beijing. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described himself as “Fervently Sinophile” in February and chose not to go along with a US declaration of Uighur genocide.

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