Biden is guaranteed to receive warm applause when addressing G7 leaders and the Munich Security Conference on Friday, but his government should expect a more rocky road.
After talking to his British, French and German colleagues, he aimed Revival of the Iranian nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken will meet with Quad colleagues (India, Japan and Australia) on Friday and with the EU Foreign Council on Monday. His audience expects him to play a transatlantic bad cop compared to the always optimistic Biden.
On other fronts of the charm offensive, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin concluded two days of meetings with NATO colleagues He successfully argued to delay the withdrawal of NATO troops from AfghanistanWhile Climate Envoy John Kerry is working today with United States Secretary-General António Guterres to bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement.
POLITICO spoke to a dozen European and Japanese leaders and senior officials, who often lived in fear of former President Donald Trump’s tweets. While they are positively relaxed about the speeches Biden will be giving on Friday, they know that Biden’s powers are limited.
European leaders in particular fear that Trumpism will stay alive, are skeptical of the results the White House can draw from a deeply divided US Congress, and have not yet been sold to the expectations of the Biden administration China, Russia and trade to meet.
To maximize the chances of a functioning G-7 and a reignited transatlantic relationship, the allies are setting the bar low for Friday’s gatherings.
As president and host of the G7 meeting on Friday, the UK gave Biden a top grade before opening his mouth. “Biden doesn’t have to come to this meeting with a bunch of creative political announcements for it to be important or successful,” said a senior British diplomat, adding, “It’s enough to stop America’s image bleeding. I doubt anyone will be disappointed becomes. ”
A Japanese government spokesman stressed the need for the G7 countries to “lead the international order post COVID” and awaited a broad agreement on the shared democratic values that Biden is expected to advocate.
Even the Hungarian government, which had an antagonistic relationship with the Obama administration, couldn’t bring itself to ring alarm bells about the Biden era: Cabinet member and government spokesman Zoltán Kovács said he had no concerns or expectations to convey Biden.
While the commitments to multilateralism and democracy are already flowing, they mask the bubbling transatlantic tensions on issues ranging from trade to energy policy to China.
European officials know that the tough talks cannot be avoided for long. Biden “said the right things” to reassure Europe after “the unpredictable cacophony of Trump,” said Stubb.
“But the realistic picture is that the world is radically different from 2016 when Trump came on the scene,” he added. “This is the message Blinken was supposed to convey” when he met with the 27 EU foreign ministers and the bloc’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell.
Europe is not afraid to go its own way
The EU was shocked by the British vote to leave and between Trump, an emerging China and a disinterested America under Trump. In recent years, it has set the course for “strategic autonomy”. During this time also China overtook the USA as the EU’s largest trading partner.
The EU’s repositioning is only now bearing fruit, but that doesn’t mean it’s superficial either: there is a determined independent approach to China-Russia relations, reinforced industrial policies, tough digital rules and taxes, and only a tentative commitment to one common EU defense and increased national defense spending.
While the Biden government sees the EU as an essential pillar of stability in global affairs, it shies away from many of these decisions.
Europeans also fear that a new Republican administration four years from now could undo Biden’s defense and climate commitments, leaving them stranded with long-term investment and no American support. “Who can say we won’t end up exactly where we were in four years?” asked a senior German defense official.
Heads of state and government and climate officials welcome the US re-entry into the Paris Agreement – Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s Chancellor, called it “an encouraging move” – but said they will only celebrate if Congress has a strict and well-funded goal adopted for emission reduction by 2030.
Trade tensions are dwindling
There is goodwill in trade, but that doesn’t prevent points of contention from being exposed.
Kurz, Austria’s 34-year-old Chancellor, told POLITICO: As soon as progress has been made against Covid-19 and on the way to economic recovery, “we should give our trade relations a fresh start by resolving ongoing trade disputes and ending punitive measures as soon as possible. ”
Briefly refers to Trump-era tariffs that the new administration has not yet settledand Biden’s new “Made in America” procurement policy, which is causing grumbling in Brussels. Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU head of trade, told reporters Thursday: “We will check to what extent the US is meeting its requirements [World Trade Organization] Global Procurement Agreement Obligations. “
As part of a wider trade policy review, Dombrovskis promised that the EU would be “tougher and more assertive”. That includes Efforts by the European Commission to find a trade tool against coercionThis would enable him to take revenge on future US efforts to block EU trade. EU officials are frustrated that European companies like Airbus and Renault have lost due to US sanctions against Iran. Brussels is also concerned that Washington could ban EU companies from shipping goods (such as cars) made with US microchips to China for national security reasons.
“We’re going to see some tension in the semiconductor field in the years to come,” he said Thierry Breton, the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner. “We in Europe want to play our full role in this new geostrategic chess game.”
Back in Washington, administration officials mostly bite their tongues. Avoid controversial geopolitics like the Nordstream II gas pipeline from Russia to Germanydespite the House Republicans calling for sanctions to be imposed.
On Trump’s favorite topic of defense finance commitments, Defense Secretary Austin wrote on Wednesday that the US is doing so “Ready to consult together, decide together and act together” with NATO allies a much softer tone than Trump.
The European heads of state and government know that this harmony will not last without additional European efforts. “Both President Biden and Secretary Blinken know Europe very well. But it also means that they know that Europe could be a better partner and ally, ”Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told POLITICO.
“We have to put our European house in order by agreeing on foreign policy and defense,” added de Croo.
Washington’s frustrations will almost certainly be open if the EU pushes for “strategic autonomy” for the US, China and Russia.
While American officials roll their eyes The EU botches relations with Russiaand see the “technical sovereigntyBlatant protectionism at the top of their list of complaints is a recently concluded investment agreement between the EU and China, which Angela Merkel and EU officials deliberately enforced in the last few weeks of the Trump administration.
The China problem
“China will be the elephant in the room,” said Stubb, but others, including Austria’s Kurz, are excited to put the discussion in the spotlight. “Austria is also ready to start an open dialogue with the United States about China,” said Kurz.
The problem for the US could be a lack of EU unity on this issue. “When Mr Biden reaches out to Europe, he expects a big shock, not 27 opinions from so many Member States,” said De Croo.
Many smaller European countries feel stuck with China: they distrust Beijing’s exercise of power but find it both too big to ignore and too big to handle on their own. Germany and France – the largest EU powers – have expressed their preference for dealing with China rather than forming a Cold War-style bloc against China.
As the EU moved closer to the US positions on China in 2020, due to the lack of unity, many European countries are still leaving Huawei in at least parts of their mobile networks and preventing the EU from imposing sanctions on China Human rights violations against the Uighur Muslim minority.
Last week, when China tried to use a special summit to strengthen ties with central and eastern European countries, half of the EU’s 12 heads of state or government invited could not be displayed a tribute to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who hosted the event.
When Blinken meets 27 European foreign ministers via video conference on Monday, he will begin testing the waters to see if the EU can be a strong ally of the US on China policy.
Brussels is aware that pressure from DC is on its way and is considering blocking products made using slave labor before entering the EU market as part of its new trade strategy, said Dombrovskis, EU chief of trade . Countries like the US, Canada and the UK have taken steps to avoid importing such products after increasingly detailed reports of forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region came out.
Meanwhile, NATO – of which 21 EU countries are members – has tacitly expanded its remit to China: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance’s strategy must be based on defending democracy against China and Russia “Authoritarian backlash against rules-based international order.”
NATO’s traditional enemy is another source of EU division and possible conflict with a Biden government. To the annoyance of the Baltic countries, Emmanuel Macron has spent his French presidency succeeding where Merkel, Barack Obama and others have failed – by making Vladimir Putin a security partner for Europe. There is no evidence that it works.
Italy’s new Prime Minister Mario Draghi appears determined to follow in Macron’s footsteps: With his debut speech on Wednesday, Italy would seek to intensify dialogue with Russia while expressing concerns about the violation of fundamental rights in the country.
Draghi’s remarks come as The EU is considering hitting Russia with further sanctions. The subject will be on the table at the meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers on Monday, immediately after Blinken has finished his discussion with the ministers.
We will always have Munich
President Biden returns to the Munich Security Conference with a familiar message for familiar faces on familiar ground: “Without a stable Atlantic alliance, I think everything will fall apart. “But what worked in 2009 and 2019 may not be enough in 2021 as democracy is under attack from all sides, including at home in the United States.
Biden had to adjust his domestic embassy and policies to keep up with the times and take a number of concrete measures to remedy the damage he discovered when he took office. Sooner or later he will have to do the same abroad.
Matthew Karnitschnig and Mark Scott contributed to this report.