US President Joe Biden will seek the EU’s backing on Tuesday to face the rise of China, but Brussels wants a swift end to lingering trade rows and a clean break from Donald Trump.
After the European enthusiasm that followed Biden’s election, the president of the European Council Charles Michel, representing the 27 EU leaders, and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will sound out Biden for more detail on his “America is back” pledge.
Biden’s two-hour stopover at EU headquarters, tucked between a NATO summit and his sitdown with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, “is not going to settle everything but diplomacy is back”, a senior EU official said on Monday.
After the crisis in the transatlantic relationship under Trump, who considered the EU a bitter economic rival, Biden wants to “defuse the disputes … in order to focus on his priority, China”, said Eric Maurice of the Schuman Foundation.
The Europeans will be trying to clear the slate of trade disputes in order to enter a more friendly phase and jointly tackle other issues, which also include curbing big tech and handling Russia.
The European official said both sides had been “sweating” to find common ground on trade ahead of the meeting and give clear sign that Trump-era battles will soon be behind them.
A row over Airbus and Boeing goes back 17 years, with each side accusing the other of illegally subsidising their domestic champions. A deal is hoped for next month.
The more difficult bone of contention is a tariff of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium that Trump slapped on Europe and other close partners in 2018.
Brussels hit back with counter-tariffs on 2.8 billion euros worth of iconic US products, including bourbon whiskey, jeans, and Harley-Davidson motorbikes.
The final statement will attempt to offer a clear timeline for resolving the dispute, but US diplomats have been reluctant to write an actual end date on paper.
Trump and Brussels also quarrelled over taxing big tech platforms after France led a group of several EU states by hitting Google, Facebook and others with a special levy.
Washington fought back with a wave of counter-tariffs that Biden has frozen, as both sides await a worldwide deal on how to better tax big tech companies.
A final statement from the meeting in Brussels will allude to these battles, with diplomats behind the scenes trying to find the right language to display good intentions, but without giving too much ground.
Washington will also express concern over the controversial agreement reached in December between the EU and China that would open the Chinese market to European companies.
The implementation of the deal, however, is currently frozen following EU sanctions over Uyghur rights violations and counter-sanctions from Beijing.
– ‘Maximum pressure’ –
Biden and the EU chiefs will also agree to cooperate in something called a trade and technology council that will attempt to write joint rules for artificial intelligence and other innovations over the coming years.
Though unnamed, China is the important backdrop for the idea, which will set the ground for “new technologies based on our shared democratic values, including respect for human rights”, the draft communique says.
Both sides will also set up an EU-Russia forum in order to exchange ideas on facing increasingly disruptive moves by Moscow, with a special focus on fighting disinformation and other flagrant misuses of technology.
The model is based on an existing forum on China that meets to find ways to more closely align the EU-US stance towards Beijing’s growing global influence.
“Transatlantic unity is essential for maximum pressure” on Moscow, a European official acknowledged.
“This is just the beginning of a conversation — it’s the beginning of a process, a first reset of the relationship,” said Ricardo Borges de Castro of the European Policy Centre.