After Trump, EU feels a more familiar US arrogance
By David M.
Herszenhorn* – POLITICO
European leaders are
thrilled to have Joe Biden and a return to the friendly American exceptionalism
they know so well.
With Joe Biden
preparing for his first trip abroad as president, European leaders are noticing
a change in the transatlantic air.
The hostile and nasty American arrogance of Donald Trump is
gone, replaced by the more polite and friendly American arrogance that they
remember — not always fondly — from their dealings with previous U.S.
As they concluded a summit in Brussels on Tuesday, EU heads
of state and government said they had acted swiftly to respond to the
interception and forced landing of a passenger jet by Belarus, and they noted
approvingly that Biden had echoed their outrage, praised the EU’s measures, and
appeared to be following Europe’s lead in preparing sanctions and other
At the same time, some leaders took note of the fact that
the Biden White House had not given them any formal heads up before the
announcement on Monday that a deal had been reached to hold a summit with
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva next month.
A discussion at the EU summit on Tuesday about the
coronavirus pandemic also touched on Biden’s proposal to lift patent
protections for vaccines — an announcement that blindsided European leaders and
drew questions and criticism, including from German Chancellor Angela Merkel,
who said the move would not quickly increase vaccine production.
“We are happy that Biden is here,” said an EU official who
monitored the leaders’ discussions. “We have recreated a link. But we are on
different tracks on several things.”
There is little doubt transatlantic relations are vastly
improved since the departure of Trump, who took pleasure in berating European
allies, called the EU “a foe” and
said it was set up “to harm the U.S. on trade.”
Last week, Brussels and Washington reached a deal to prevent
an escalation on June 1 of the EU’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S.-made
motorcycles, bourbon and other products that were imposed in response to
Trump’s tariffs on European steel and aluminum. The sides said they were ready
to begin discussions to address global excess steel capacity.
But European leaders have also bristled at the presumption
among Biden administration officials that EU allies will dutifully follow
Washington’s lead. For instance, NATO allies complained that they were given
little advance warning once Biden had made a decision on a full withdrawal from
Afghanistan by September 11, after he took months to ponder his plans.
And there was strong pushback against the
patent waiver idea among leaders at another EU summit in Portugal earlier this
EU officials said it doesn’t help that more than four months
after Biden’s inauguration, the president still has not nominated an ambassador
to the EU or to NATO. (Trump took far longer, nominating his NATO ambassador,
Kay Bailey Hutchison, at the end of June during his first year in office, and
his EU ambassador, Gordon Sondland, in May the following year.)
All of this has contributed to a sense in some EU capitals,
including Paris, that the EU must demonstrate strategic independence — a
sentiment that will frame some of the discussions at next month’s summit of G7
leaders in the U.K. and a NATO leaders’ summit in Brussels.
After those two gatherings, Biden will meet in Brussels with
European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President
Ursula von der Leyen. A similar meeting between EU leaders and Canadian Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau is also in the works. Biden is then expected to fly on
to Switzerland to meet with Putin.
The EU official said that Brussels and Washington were
working together, but that the EU felt no obligation to touch base with the
White House before announcing its measures against Belarus and the country’s
strongman president, Alexander Lukashenko.
“They didn’t tell us that they were going to announce their
summit with Putin,” the official said. “Why should we talk to them first before
reacting to something that happened in our own backyard?”
EU legal services and other officials are now scrambling to
develop specific proposals for new sanctions against Belarus, including
identifying “entities” — likely government-owned or controlled corporations —
that can be targeted because they had a role in the forced landing of the
Ryanair jet and the arrest of the political opposition activist Roman
Officials and diplomats said that the process of developing
sanctions that could stand up to legal challenges would not be easy.
After the summit on Tuesday, Merkel noted that the EU unity
on responding to Belarus highlighted continuing disagreements among the 27
member countries over relations and policy toward Russia. If EU countries can’t
find consensus among themselves, it’s hard to expect full agreement with
Washington, London, Ottawa or Tokyo, other diplomats said.
Another senior official said those inevitable differences
were a reason for Europe to chart its own path. “It’s important on the one hand
to cooperate, to coordinate with all like-minded partners,” the official said.
“Transatlantic relationships can add the United States and others of course.
But it’s important also to have our own vision of Europe in the short term, the
mid term, the long term when it comes to our priorities.”
*David M. Herszenhorn is chief Brussels
correspondent of POLITICO. Before joining POLITICO, David worked for more than
20 years at The New York Times, as a reporter, Washington correspondent and
foreign correspondent based in Moscow.