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President Biden’s visit to the EU – a new start for transatlantic relations

Written by Clare Ferguson, Tania Latici, Matthew Parry and Ionel Zamfir.

President Biden

Expectations are at an all-time high in Europe for a re-set in transatlantic relations in advance of the EU-US Summit scheduled for 15 June. With President Biden personally attending the summit, as well as both the preceding G7 Summit and the NATO leaders’ meeting, EU leaders will be keen to make the most of the opportunity for face-to-face diplomacy, with a view to repairing relations that have negatively impacted cooperation on trade, the fight against climate change and even the defence of democracy itself.

US Foreign policy

Eager to shore up US democratic institutions, President Biden has promised to pursue a ‘foreign policy for the middle class’, and insisted that American citizens’ future prosperity can be maximised through intensified international cooperation. The Biden Administration’s emerging foreign policy priorities therefore focus on ‘building back better’ on a global scale, in pursuit of the same imperative at home, while working with allies to counter authoritarian threats to US interests. Early moves to re-enter the Paris Agreement and to re-affirm the importance of the transatlantic partnership confirm that this administration is taking a different transatlantic tack. However, some trade policy issues remain contentious. A joint approach towards China is expected to be on the summit agenda, but some divergence still exists in that area.

G7 Summit

President Biden’s first European appointment is at the 47th G7 Summit, which will take place on 11‑13 June, after a one year break due the coronavirus pandemic (the 46th Summit did not take place). There, he might be expected to follow-up on his agenda to reassert democratic values. With a reputation as an informal framework of cooperation on major global issues, the G7 Summit this year is likely to uncover the depth of the shared commitment to the fundamental values of liberal democracy in the face of authoritarianism, and the strength of cooperation in tackling Covid‑19. To ensure more equitable and rapid access to vaccines and other medical supplies for developing countries, the US has supported a proposal to waive patent rights for the production of vaccines. However, the EU insists on using existing flexibilities and on expanding production capacities, particularly in Africa. It remains to be seen whether G7 leaders will find common ground on how to improve access to vaccines for developing countries. Likewise, the global corporate tax proposed by the USA and agreed by the G7 finance ministers is likely to be a priority subject for discussion. While it could represent a historical change in the international taxation system in pursuit of greater fairness, the commitment is yet to be tested at the implementation level. Regulation of digital developments is also expected to figure in the discussions. Climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement are naturally another priority, following President Biden’s April 2021 virtual climate summit, which announced an updated US target, new initiatives to help developing countries decarbonise, and prompted several other countries to update their targets. While the US return to positive climate action is welcome, questions remain regarding their feasibility.


See also our Topical Digest with selected publications on EU Transatlantic Relations


NATO leaders’ meeting

Recent turbulence in the international order has also led to a strategic reflection on the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). In parallel, the EU is carrying out its own deliberation on the scope of its security and defence policy, known as the ‘Strategic Compass’. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has provided a forward-looking agenda for the leaders’ meeting on 14 June 2021, inspired by the ‘NATO 2030’ process, which is intended to reinforce the ‘unity between Europe and North America’, to broaden ‘NATO’s approach to security’, and to safeguard rules-based multilateralism. While presenting certain risks, the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, where NATO troops have been deployed since 2001, is certain to be on the leaders’ table. With the recent hijacking perpetrated by Belarus fresh in leaders’ minds, the seemingly perpetual tensions with Russia and reinforcing the Eastern flank, in advance of President Biden’s forthcoming meeting with President Putin, are also expected to be discussed. In the same vein, NATO Allies are likely to balance the opportunities to cooperate with China on economic and climate matters with its build-up of its defence capabilities and its stance on human rights. A debate on a renewed EU‑NATO cooperation is expected during European Parliament’s plenary on 5 July 2021.

Trade

Transatlantic relations have been rather difficult for some time, particularly in the context of the World Trade Organization Appellate Body crisis. Thus far, President Biden’s position on international trade shows some overlap with that of previous administrations. It is highly likely that both G7 and EU leaders will engage with President Biden on these issues during his time on European soil, not least because so many of his administration’s other priorities, on corporate tax, Big Tech and climate change, depend on good trading relations.

Nevertheless, the Biden Administration’s foreign policy moves to date augur well for a move to a more positive and dynamic transatlantic relationship in the years to come, and there are signs of transatlantic alignment on major trade files.

G7 members: Population and nominal GDP per country in 2021

Български (jpg | pdf) – Español (jpg | pdf) – Čeština (jpg | pdf) – Dansk (jpg | pdf) – Deutsch (jpg | pdf) – Eesti Keel (jpg | pdf) – Ελληνικά (jpg | pdf) – English (jpg | pdf) – Français (jpg | pdf) – Gaeilge (jpg | pdf) – Hrvatski (jpg | pdf) – Italiano (jpg | pdf) – Lietuvių Kalba (jpg | pdf) – Magyar (jpg | pdf) – Malti (jpg | pdf) – Nederlands (jpg | pdf) – Polski (jpg | pdf) – Português (jpg | pdf) – Română (jpg | pdf) – Slovenčina (jpg | pdf) – Slovenščina (jpg | pdf) – Svenska (jpg | pdf)

Graphic taken from the EPRS Briefing ‘G7 summit, June 2021: Asserting democratic values in the post-crisis context‘.

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