Irish Times view on Joe Biden’s visit to Europe: repairing relationships

US president’s message that “America is back” is intended to reboot transatlantic relations in a new world of geopolitical competition with China

US President Joe Biden speaks to the press before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland before departing for the UK and Europe to attend a series of summits. Photograph:  Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images

US President Joe Biden speaks to the press before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland before departing for the UK and Europe to attend a series of summits. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images

 

President Joe Biden arrived in Europe on Thursday for summits with the Group of Seven powerful states and then with the European Union, Nato and President Putin of Russia. Biden’s message that “America is back” after Donald Trump is intended to reboot transatlantic relations in a new world of geopolitical competition with China. That message is welcomed by European allies, even as they wonder how enduring it will be, how it will survive the many different interests they have with the US and whether they are going to be treated as genuinely equal partners in this new era.

There can be no doubting the Biden administration’s resolve to reassert US leadership and multilateralism, after many concluded – not least the Chinese – that they were lost during the last four years and cannot be fully retrieved. An experienced foreign policy team working closely with notably accomplished domestic policy officials has shifted US economic, political and strategic priorities on the world scene. The core emphasis on re-establishing relations with key allies is a central part of Biden’s policy. The lineup of summitry ticks most of those boxes, since it involves Japan and invited guests India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa at the G7 and then a much larger group of European states at the EU and Nato.

The substantive outcomes can be used to judge how far US-led alliances are likely to deliver in practice. Global issues such as the Covid pandemic, climate, trade and corporate taxation are foregrounded at the G7 and provide genuine opportunities for new initiatives based on work already done. Much attention too will focus on US efforts to firm up alliances against a rapidly emerging China. But other leaders worry they are being herded into a US effort to shore up its own hegemony in that struggle rather than create an effective framework to engage and manage a more multi-polar world.

Similar concerns will animate the US summits with the EU and Nato. Disagreements on tariffs, data transfer rules, corporate tax, drug pricing, artificial intelligence regulation, carbon pricing and border taxes separate EU and US negotiators, as do policies on China and the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline. All relate to the EU’s search for strategic autonomy in its international relations, notwithstanding its own foreign policy fragmentations and weakness. European leaders do not appreciate being blindsided or marginalised by a US intent on pursuing its own interests.

With leadership comes an expectation of creative involvement in dispute resolution among allies and with antagonists. After the failure of EU-UK talks on the Northern Ireland protocol in London on Wednesday, attention here is fixed firmly on whether Biden can encourage his host Boris Johnson to resolve that impasse if the UK wants to conclude a trade deal with the US.

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