Who is Biden going to call after Merkel?
Stefano Stefanini, former Italian ambassador to NATO, said that “for the Biden administration it is above all the policy of China, and in this league even Australia offers more than France” . Russian politics is another issue for France’s competitive position in the alliance hierarchy of the Biden administration.
Downing Street takes a hard line against Russian President Vladimir Putin – still motivated by anger at Russian agents who carried out the Skripal assassination attempt on British soil in 2018 – Macron, on the other hand, sought to call on Russia at the G-7 table in 2019.
By the end of 2021, Macron may have restored his relations in Washington to a stable state. But by then, he will have Merkel’s successor vying for the attention of the White House.
France will assume the rotating EU presidency in the first half of 2022 – a useful platform for political theater – but which Macron will mainly be forced to use in the service of his re-election campaign, where his poll average is 24. % before that of May 2022. French presidential election.
With France in trouble and the UK outside the EU, Germany remains critical. “[It is] the big player in the room on most issues, ”including energy security and how Europe is fiscally supporting its post-Covid economic recovery, said Anthony Gardner, the former ambassador.
While Germany’s forces are in the civilian realm, “this is what sustains, nurtures and propels relations between countries,” said Ivo Daalder, former US Ambassador to NATO, now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Rather than competing militarily with its neighbors, the strategic challenge for the new German government is “To provide its European partners with clear ideas on how the EU can compete in a divided and crisis-ridden world,” said Jana Puglierin, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It will have to lead the EU towards a post-dependent Atlanticism. ”
Amid the chaos and belligerence of the Trump administration, EU governments have decided they must push for “strategic autonomy” from the United States and China . “There is no longer a table in Europe with people waiting for the United States to come back and become our leader,” said Shada Islam, member of the Strategic Council of the European Policy Center, a non-partisan think tank. .
It’s fair to say that the concept is loosely defined and poorly funded. But there is already a big winner: Brussels.
In recent years, the EU has established itself as the world’s leading digital police force, has set the bar very high for many climate policies that are now spreading globally, and has negotiated more than triple the number. of trade agreements (46) than the United States (14), making it the undisputed world leader.
“This is the right time to take our autonomy strategy very seriously,” said Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares told POLITICO, stressing that the EU is refining its approach to industrial policy, trade deals, defense research and Covid stimulus packages.
Pressed by POLITICO to choose who Biden should call in Europe, Alexander Stubb, former Finnish prime minister of Merkel’s center-right political group, said: “For now it would be Ursula von der Leyen,” the president of the European Union Commission.
“Why? Because she holds the key to the most important issues of the moment: Covid, climate and digital. These three problems frame the future and that is why she is a good point of contact,” said Stubb.
Even British officials concede – after several years of bloody Brexit negotiations – that Brussels is on the rise. “If you really want the EU to come together on an issue, then you are probably calling Brussels,” the British diplomat said.
Washington recognizes this reality: it has agreed to create a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council (TTC), which met for the first time on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. The European delegation was sent by the European Commission, rather than national capitals, reflecting the Commission’s exclusive power to negotiate trade deals on behalf of the EU.
Against all expectations, both sides say the meeting was a success: “Much better than expected,” European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager told POLITICO, describing in-depth unwritten discussions of how transatlantic allies could rewrite digital and commerce. rule books in the face of growing competition and strategic threats from China.
What neither Brussels nor Washington expected was France trying to scuttle the meeting in anticipation of it.
Humbled by the news that the United States will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, which scuttled France’s $ 60 billion submarine deal, Paris first tried to postpone the meeting, then tried to prevent the EU from agreeing on clear goals for the talks.
Despite the interference, EU officials made the Pittsburgh meeting a basis for closer transatlantic cooperation in 2022.
The process might have worked better if German officials – inactive due to Sunday’s election – could have helped iron out internal differences, but if these complications sound familiar, that’s because they are.
Stubb said even European leaders were joking at their summit table about President Barack Obama’s difficulties in engaging with the continent. “The legendary joke goes that Obama wanted to talk to Europe, but forgot about the jet lag. He grabbed an answering machine that said, “You called the EU. For a German view, press one, for a French view, press two.
Peter Rough, principal researcher at the Hudson Institute, warns that whoever chooses to call Washington, the real problem isn’t browsing the European phone book: it’s that “every time Washington picks up the phone, Xi and Putin now blur the connection ”.