From a starting point in Cornwall, England, President Joe Biden today kicks off his week-long European tour to rally Democratic allies with an enthusiastic pledge that America is back and ready to lead efforts to resolve pressing global issues – from pandemic recovery to climate change.

Yet, as Mr Biden moves over the next few days from England to Brussels and Geneva – meeting most of the United States’ closest allies in an extraordinary streak of summits and side meetings – he can expect some mistrust mixed with general enthusiasm.

Think about it, say transatlantic relations analysts and some European diplomats, like when the best dog in a bunch of best friends gives up to do his own job, only to return one day to resume his old role at the head of the group.

Everyone is happy that the leader is back, but there are also new questions and new doubts: how long before the leader gets back on his way? How has he changed – and will he accept that his friends have changed in his absence as well?

“Europeans are not only relieved but excited about the message President Biden brings in the context of this trip, with his rhetoric of renewed bonds and re-engagement with American leadership. They felt very alone… defending the international system without their close American friend, ”explains Rosa Balfour, director of Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

Europeans will be reassured by an American president speaking colloquial language of transatlantic unity and American leadership after four years of tension and “America First” under Donald Trump, she said.

“But there is also a strong concern in Europe that we have not seen the end of Trump and Trumpism, that the Republican Party appears to be captured by the Trumpist wing and may again change America’s global outlook. in a few years, ”she adds. “So what Europeans want to see now are decisions, something concrete that confirms a renewed determination to work together.”

“Arsenal of vaccines”

Suggesting that the White House fully understands the need to put meat on the bones of presidential rhetoric, Mr Biden on Thursday announced a ‘historic’ donation of half a billion vaccines to the poorest and least developed countries of the world over the next two years. The vaccines are part of a U.S.-led effort among the world’s wealthiest democracies to demonstrate their ability to meet urgent global needs.

“When [Americans] We have the capacity, then we have the will, and we step up and deliver, ”Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to Biden, told reporters Thursday. “As [the president] said… we were the arsenal of democracy in WWII, and we are going to be the arsenal of vaccines… to end this pandemic.

Still others say that without an honest calculation among friends of how their relationship has changed and what each party now expects from her, Mr. Biden’s journey could end in disappointment.

“While there may be a strong desire for this, I hope we don’t just have a good news program with a theme ‘we are all united’ and a hiding of the differences that exist on the big issues that we are confronted, ”explains Sven Biscop, director of the Europe in the world program at the Royal Institute for International Studies Egmont in Brussels.

“I prefer to see what you can expect from a strong friendship,” he adds, “as frank discussions that expose the differences but also remind everyone of what lies behind friendship first. location. After more than four years of separation, ”he says,“ the United States and Europe need this honesty to lay the groundwork for making tough decisions. “

The “three Cs” of the Biden journey

There will be no shortage of opportunities for such conversations on a trip that the White House says will be dominated by the “three Cs”: COVID-19, China and climate change.

In Cornwall, Mr. Biden attends a summit of the Group of Seven Advanced Economies – the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom and Canada. The group aims to regain some of its lost luster and relevance by addressing the issues of economic recovery and post-pandemic inequalities to global economic governance – and by inviting leaders from Australia, New Zealand , South Korea and India, to underline the group’s commitment. foundation of democratic governance and the global economic transition to Asia.

On Monday, Mr. Biden visits NATO headquarters in Brussels. There, he will join the leaders of the 30-member transatlantic alliance as it moves from its mission in Afghanistan, which ends in September, to renewed threats in the Russia area and threats of the 21st century, including cybersecurity. and space technologies.

In the vein of “difficult discussions with problematic allies”, Mr. Biden will take the time during his time in NATO to sit down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turkish leader’s democratic setback and growing human rights violations represent a challenge for an American president who is committed to making democracy and human rights key elements of his foreign policy.

On Tuesday in Brussels, the US president sits with the two most senior leaders of the European Union – the first US-EU summit since 2014. For European analysts, the EU summit will be the best place for Mr. Biden to address the Chinese pillar. of his trip. China poses a dilemma for Europe, because although it is now the biggest trading partner of Europeans, China’s human rights abuses, undemocratic measures against Hong Kong and coercive trade practices against China Australia and others have poisoned European parliamentarians and the public.

Old thought, new thought

Attention then turns to Geneva, for what some analysts qualify as the “main event” of the trip: Mr. Biden’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

White House officials speaking in the run-up to the president’s first overseas incursion said it was no accident – or just practical planning – that Mr Biden would set the stage for which should be a difficult meeting with Mr. Putin by the first time. reconnecting very publicly with America’s constellation of democratic allies.

Yet some transatlantic analysts warn that, as important as “reconnecting with the allies” may seem, what matters most is the vision of renewed alliances and American leadership – and if it does. is based on a world dominated by the United States that no longer exists, or is part of a multipolar world with very different issues.

“All this talk about ‘America is back’ is nonsense. It would be much more heartwarming if there was a greater recognition that the world has changed and that there will be no going back. a long ago golden age ”of American leadership, said Michael Desch, director of the Notre Dame International Security Center in Indiana.

“But the rhetoric of Joe’s excellent European adventure doesn’t show much evidence of a real understanding of this change,” he adds. “It’s a lot of old thoughts, very few new thoughts.”

Differences on China

Another problem for Mr. Biden, according to Mr. Desch and others, is that while there may be broad agreement among Western allies on the need to act on climate change and post-global inequalities pandemics, on two other Biden priorities – a rising China and threats to democratic governance – there is little unity on the way forward.

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Originally posted by Howard LaFranchi at ndisc.nd.edu at June 11, 2021.



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