Briefing No 8 6/2021 – Biden in Europe revives the Euro-Atlantic partnership

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The US President Joe Biden concluded his first foreign trip, which favoured Europe. After Cornwall for the G7 summit, he moved on to Brussels for the NATO and US-EU summits and, finally, to Geneva for the difficult bilateral with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


The analysis of the Permanent Observatory on International Issues

The difference with his predecessor, Donald Trump, could not have been more marked. The latter had chosen Saudi Arabia as his first exit, a choice that, in retrospect, did not prove particularly happy after the shock caused by some controversial policies subsequently adopted by the country and culminating in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


Biden resumes US political tradition by strengthening relations with Europe

Biden has instead chosen to return to the US political tradition, relaunching a transatlantic relationship that has been severely tested in the last four years and focusing on renewed cooperation within the G7, NATO and the EU to address the most significant issues of the moment: climate, pandemic, the revival of global growth and investment, overcoming trade tensions, technological (cyber-security and 5G) and political confrontation (Belarus, Ukraine, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea) that are determining a profound revision of Washington’s relations with Russia and, above all, with China, noting the systemic challenge that the latter poses in the light of its economic and technological performances and from the circumstance that it does not intend to adapt entirely to a global order based on rules conceived essentially in the West.


For the American President, the European tour was based on four equally essential tests.


The relaunch of the G7 as a reference point for the most important global challenges, from the defeat of the Covid-19 pandemic to economic recovery in its new dimensions of environmental sustainability (Green New Deal) and digital sustainability (Fourth Industrial Revolution);

Strengthening NATO’s incisiveness and cohesion (after some French perplexity and Turkey’s dystonic activism) as the main Euro-Atlantic security instrument extended to cyber-security and Mediterranean/Middle Eastern and Balkan dimensions;

The overcoming of economic and trade frictions between the US and the EU, including the search for shared solutions on essential aspects to ensure growth and investments based on more certain bases (trade tensions) that are fair and shared regarding important sectors while mobilising resources for the various Recovery Plans: Global Corporate Tax and reasonable taxation of web giants;

Lastly, in their respective spheres and under an American leadership that is more sensitive and open to dialogue than the previous one, the possibility that these three roundtables could perform two tasks that have become priorities, especially in Washington: competing with China and containing Russia.

Satisfactory but not exceptional results

The results were satisfactory, though not exceptional. The G7 members took vital decisions on the global distribution of vaccines and regarding a single global tax rate for multinationals, a possible prelude to more incisive taxation of the web giants. They outlined a possible infrastructure initiative to rival China’s Belt and Road, albeit with a much smaller financial commitment than the latter. The United States and the EU have finally started to settle the long-standing Boeing-Airbus affair, improving the trade climate and, above all, definitively removing reciprocal duties and tariffs in retaliation that had reached a total of $12 billion.


The unresolved issues between the UK and the EU

Some unresolved issues, such as the confrontation between the UK and the EU over the post-Brexit Northern Irish question, have raised some doubts about the possibility of a smooth and effective cooperation, especially in the European context, but, given the stakes, it would be reasonable to assume, if not demand, that the EU and the UK should find a compromise quickly. In this respect, the United States could play a rather important role, as Biden has already made clear.


Bilateral meeting between Biden and Putin in Geneva

Without wishing to take anything away from the value of the three summits, the most important appointment of Joe Biden’s European tour was undoubtedly the bilateral meeting with President Putin, while the most important underlying theme was the effective willingness of Washington’s European and NATO partners to fully share the strong concern regarding China and, secondarily, Russia.


Concerning the former, the outcome of the Biden-Putin bilateral primarily reflected what were modest expectations on the eve of the meeting. Of course, the respective Ambassadors will return to Washington and Moscow, and some technical committees will be reinstated. However, the most important thing is that the dialogue between the two superpowers has resumed and will subsequently be handled professionally as a ‘normal’ administration has returned to Washington. In any case, only in the coming months will it be possible to assess whether the Geneva summit will have made it possible to turn the page on the turbulent relationship that the two countries have had in recent years.


The US line on China has not found unanimous consensus

As far as European solidarity with US expectations is concerned, the transatlantic relationship (including the NATO dimension) rests on new and more solid foundations. Still, for a conclusive judgement, it will be necessary to wait a few months; also because the assertive US line, especially towards China, has not found unanimous consensus among the European allies. In this context, the outcome of two crucial elections that will decide the post-Merkel era in Germany by the end of this year, and the future of President Macron in France next spring, will also be of great importance. In the first case, the new CDU leader aspiring to succeed Angela Merkel is Armin Laschet, a proponent of the need to maintain solid relations with Russia and China; in the second, Marine Le Pen represents a serious contender for Macron’s aspirations to be reappointed as President of the Republic.


For Biden, the vote in Germany and France, and the mid-term vote in the US, are crucial.

Still in the electoral sphere, it should not be forgotten that in a little over a year, all of President Biden’s domestic and international agenda will be subjected to the first harsh internal scrutiny represented by the US mid-term elections, where the Democratic majority in Congress is very slim, and the Republican Party maintains all its battling vocation under the total control of Trump and seems determined to dismantle most, if not all, of Biden’s policies. Moreover, considering that the latter, from the very beginning of his term in office, has presented his international action as a battle between democracy and authoritarianism and that the European tour of duty that has just ended must also be judged in this context, it has rightly been observed that there remains the risk that soon this battle may also be waged – paradoxically – within the United States.


What does this mean for Italy’s national interest?

Finally, if we consider the American President’s European visit in the context of Italian national interests, the noted relaunch of transatlantic relations under the banner of a closer and more profitable multilateral concertation with the United States fully corresponds to Italy’s expectations, as well as to the government action taken by President Draghi, which is, moreover, marked by a more marked Euro-Atlanticism. However, while maintaining Euro-Atlanticism as an unavoidable guiding star of Italy’s international action, preventing competition with China and the containment of Russia from taking on the appearance of a new Cold War are also important national interests for Italy that should not be underestimated, not least because of the further negative political and economic/commercial fallout that such a scenario would entail.  In the exchanges that took place during the G7 and in the bilateral meeting with President Biden, it would appear that President Draghi rightly emphasised this need.


In the final analysis, the genuine interest of the EU, and therefore also of our country, is to work to ensure that, in the inalienable commonality of values that distinguishes the two sides of the Atlantic, policies under the banner of genuine multilateralism are pursued with realism and farsightedness, i.e. the broadest and most shared possible. Only in this way will it be possible to deal effectively with the many crucial challenges of the 21st century.


*Ambassador Marco Carnelos, CEO of MC Geopolicy.

This content is also available in: Italian

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