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For the EU, Joe Biden’s first trip abroad as US President was as if his big brother came home from university – just in time to face the bully from the neighborhood.
After four days of busy G7 and NATO heads of state and government summits, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel finally had the opportunity to meet with Biden on Tuesday Put together his own quiet conversation on EU-US relations before sending him to Geneva, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Their shared message: We love you, Joe. Now get it.
Tuesday’s meeting was nothing short of a love feast, with perhaps the only difference of opinion being who was the happiest, Biden or the Europeans, that Donald Trump is no longer President of the United States.
“Well, Mr President, dear Joe, we are very pleased to see you in Brussels,” said von der Leyen as she sat down with Michel to greet Biden on the red carpet of the Council’s Europa building. “You’re back in Brussels and America is back on the global stage. It’s great news. This is great news for our alliance. It’s great news for the world too. And we look forward to working with you to address some global challenges together. “
Biden was quick to take up the subject.
“America is back,” he said. “We never left entirely, but we reaffirm the fact that it is largely in the interests of the United States of America to maintain good relations with NATO and the EU.” Then he added pointedly: “I have a completely different point of view than my predecessor.”
You do not say.
Gone is the cocky thug who labeled the EU a geopolitical enemy created to harm the US, the guy who cursed European NATO allies as killers and accused Germany of selling the West for cheap Russian gas.
Gone are the Sharpie-wielding, map-changing “stable genius” who couldn’t distinguish the Baltic from the Balkans, who wondered whether Finland was part of Russia, and Giuseppe Conte, who never ran for political office, on his “tremendous victory “In the Italian elections.
And gone, gone, gone is the charmer who called Angela Merkel and Theresa May “losers” and – oh, uncivilized inhumanity – ate his steaks well-fried, coated with ketchup.
There, in his place, the avowed Atlanticist, who for Barack Obama, the lovable grandpa (who occasionally slips up, was a wise man in terms of foreign policy) walked the red carpet past the European flags in the so-called Space Egg, the Council’s HQ). He called America’s commitment to collective defense “rock solid” and “a sacred commitment”.
As a down payment for the rejuvenated relationship, Biden agreed to a truce in the worst and longest-running trade feud across the Atlantic – the battle for government subsidies to aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. The truce may be short-lived and less than you think, but why fight over planes when you can use it to visit friends and take a summer vacation?
A long delay in the publication of the EU-US joint statement after the meeting indicated that difficulties and disagreements were being swept under the desks of some diplomats. But there was no public excitement, just the assurance that everything was fine, just fine.
The EU side acknowledged that it was time for Biden and the US to take carbon pricing more seriously as part of the global response to climate change. But they didn’t respond.
That Biden didn’t even bother staying at the closing press conference was quickly forgiven. He’s a busy man. He also travels to Geneva to try to re-establish relations with Russia on behalf of the entire Western world: Bonne Chance, Notre ami, Bonne Chance.
At the press conference with Michel, von der Leyen raved so much that one could blush.
On the trade, she said it was good that Biden dropped Trump’s feud of tariffs. “It was good to hear that the US clearly agrees with us that the European Union is not a threat to national security. We are happy about that. “
She was even happier, however, about Biden’s views on transatlantic relations.
“It was impressive to see and listen to President Biden how clearly he first and foremost recognized that yes, we know that the last four years have been difficult and the world has changed, but Europe has also changed,” said von der Leyen. “But there is a second important point: We are long-term friends and allies and share many, many same worldviews and values.”
“And the third point that was impressive to me – I don’t know how it was for you,” she said, turning to Michel. “The way he explained to both of us how much he cared about Europe because, as he said, ‘We need, we Americans need Europe’ and the same goes for us, we Europeans need our American friends because they are the democracies that uphold values and stand up for fundamental rights and values that we truly value and respect. And this atmosphere shows that we know that we are of course different, but we are one if you look at the fight for democracy. “
Von der Leyen shouldn’t have worried, Michel confirmed that it was good for him too.
“We could look each other in the eye and feel that a really shared approach is sincere,” he said. “More commitment to democracy. More commitment to stability and security. “
A first test of how well they do on the stability and security front will be Biden’s high-level meeting in Geneva, where Europeans are counting on him to try at least to create the conditions for a breakthrough with Putin.
Von der Leyen noted that relations with Russia could hardly be worse. “We have to say that relations between the EU and Russia are currently in a rather negative spiral,” she said. “We want, if I may say so, to turn this into a more predictable relationship.”
But Europeans also need to consider how bleak Moscow-Washington relations are and what hole Biden and Putin have to climb out of after years of indignation.
Samuel Charap, senior political scientist at RAND Corporation, said the confrontation between Biden and Putin could be considered successful if they could agree on such small steps as restoring normal diplomatic relations with ambassadors in each other’s capitals.
And Charap said the White House would probably be wise to avoid a joint press conference where virtually any question would just highlight bitter disagreements.
“If the purpose is to create some level of stability and predictability, then public confrontation will not promote that goal,” said Charap. What the meeting might bring, he added, “There wasn’t enough time at the work level to make a major breakthrough. This summit is about starting processes, not killing them. “
For Europe, any process in which the US president does not say he trusts Russia’s leaders more than US intelligence – as Trump did at his meeting with Putin in Helsinki in 2018 – could be enough.
Von der Leyen said Europe hopes to team up with Biden so that there will be “clear restraint in violations of international law; clear restraint on human rights violations ”and“ second, to contain Russia’s attempts to undermine us ”.
“But,” she said, “relations between the EU and Russia are in a negative spiral, and we clearly conveyed that to President Biden.”