VThere will be talk of a transatlantic partnership when the leaders of the EU and USA meet on Tuesday for their summit in Brussels. Also present: US President Joe Biden, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council President Charles Michel.
They will all conjure up common interests and values and extol a common agenda. It is the first EU / US summit in over four years. Topics: Covid-19, climate, trade and investment, technology, foreign policy. But what are the points of contention between the European Union and Washington, along with all the diplomatically sugar-coated rhetoric? An overview:
For some time now, the US has been pushing for vaccination patents to be released. Germany in particular is opposed to this, emphasizing the right to patent protection. As is so often the case, the EU does not have a uniform stance.
The European Commission is against a release, the European Parliament has spoken out in favor. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen argues that the protected intellectual property rights must remain in place: “Intellectual property rights must be protected.” It was the basis for the breakthrough in Covid vaccines.
French President Emmanuel Macron had put the brakes on EU vaccine orders by relying on the French vaccine from Sanofi, which has not yet been developed. Macron is now on the side of US President Joe Biden and is promoting the temporary release of vaccine patents. Intellectual property shouldn’t be a barrier to vaccine access, says Macron.
Non-governmental organizations such as Oxfam also advocate this position. The G-7, whose Cornwall summit ended on Sunday, pledged to donate at least 870 million vaccine doses, half of that by the end of this year. The World Health Organization (WHO) was disappointed. “We need more and we need it faster,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Freedom of travel
Recently the Covid coordinator of the White House, Jeff Zients, and representatives from EU / Schengen countries met virtually. Her topic: the reciprocal travel restrictions that have been in force since March 2020 as a result of the Covid crisis. Von der Leyen had already offered the US in April to lift the restrictions on vaccinated citizens.
The US reaction: a few empty words, if at all. Biden von der Leyen has been fidgeting for weeks, while more and more EU countries allow vaccinated Americans to enter.
The other day the EU argued that Tuesday’s summit would be a good opportunity for the US to announce an easing of restrictions. But the White House reacted coolly again. There are neither current plans to lift the restrictions nor a specific timetable for opening them.
Several EU states pointed to the growing frustration of their citizens about the way in which the US organized exemptions from the entry ban. They also criticized the arrears in several US embassies and the difficulties faced by Europeans in obtaining a US visa. Will anything change in this matter on Tuesday? Von der Leyen, after the disaster of the vaccine order, was more concerned with her image than ever before, urgently needed such a success.
The dispute is old, but far from over. In 2014, the NATO countries agreed to increase their defense budgets to two percent of economic output by 2024. The USA (over) fulfills this target clearly. A number of NATO countries that also belong to the EU are lagging behind. Prominent example: Germany. Last year, in addition to the USA, only ten countries reached this target, namely Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Greece, Great Britain, Romania, Poland, France and Norway.
Formally a topic for NATO, the USA and the EU must clarify how much the Americans want and should be part of the European defense strategy in the future. While the Balts and Poland are promoting it, France and Belgium are reserved.
In the EU there is growing critical awareness of the increasingly aggressive behavior of the communist state and party leadership in China. But the US has long been on a much more distant and consistent course against Beijing.
In fact, Biden is continuing Trump’s policies critical of China, albeit without his radical rhetoric. The Biden government calls China’s dealings with the Muslim Uyghur minority a “genocide”. The EU sees China as a “systemic rival” and recently imposed sanctions.
Pressure is coming from the European Parliament, especially from the Greens, who are campaigning for a clearer demarcation from China. In May, the parliament broadly condemned the sanctions China imposed on several EU citizens, including five MEPs. The examination of the investment agreement between the EU and China has been “legitimately put on hold” due to the imposed Chinese sanctions.
That agreement was largely driven by Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) – to the great annoyance of the USA. On this question, Biden and Merkel are diametrically opposed to each other. On July 15, US President Merkel will be received for a final visit to the White House. Washington can justifiably hope that Merkel’s successor will enable a duly critical policy on China.
“The EU is possibly as bad as China,” said Donald Trump three years ago. He complained that Europe was selling cars to the US while US manufacturers had a much harder time selling their products to the EU. Biden is continuing parts of Trump’s protectionist policies, wants to bring lost industrial jobs back to the USA, and praises “Made in America”. In doing so, however, Biden focuses on China and does not come up with the idea of equating the communist regime with the EU.
Rather, Washington wants to win the EU over to a common line against China. There are some indications that the EU and the US want to overcome their trade disputes of the past few years. Less dependence on China is the most important goal of the USA. The Biden government is ready to renegotiate with the EU over the decades-long controversy over aid for the aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. The World Trade Organization found illegal subsidies from both companies. The Biden government and the EU Commission waived the possible imposition of punitive tariffs.
Trump had also introduced special tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel in 2018 to protect the starving domestic industry, especially in the electoral states. The EU responded by increasing tariffs on US products like whiskey and motorcycles. The EU renounced the originally intended doubling of these tariffs this summer – a kind of trade peace offer to the USA.
Nord Stream 2
Despite considerable pressure from Congress, Biden has waived the sanctions imposed by his predecessor Trump against the operating company of the “Nord Stream 2” pipeline. This is an enormous concession to Germany and also to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, with whom Biden wants to meet for a one-to-one summit in Geneva on Wednesday. The US, however, continues to strictly reject the Baltic Sea pipeline. That goes for both parties in Congress. In the EU, Germany is noticeably alone here.
Poland, the Baltic States and France reject the Nord Stream 2 project. Proponents of the pipeline argue that it is an “economic project”. The fact that Angela Merkel’s negotiator recently negotiated the matter with Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington goes against this view.
On the other hand, it is true that the USA also imports energy from Russia, more precisely oil. Ascending trend. For years, Russia’s share of annual US oil imports was less than 0.5 percent; according to calculations by the business news agency Bloomberg, it reached an all-time high of seven percent. In 2020, U.S. imports from Russia averaged 538,000 barrels per day. That is more oil than the US imported from Saudi Arabia.