Biden presidency an opportunity to strengthen EU’s ‘transatlantic bond’ with US

MEPs set to hold debate on EU-US relationship on inauguration day, Wednesday 20 January.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Jan 2021

Joe Biden’s inauguration this week represents an opportunity to bolster the “transatlantic bond,” says EPP leader Manfred Weber.

The German MEP was speaking just ahead of Biden’s first days in office after his inauguration on Wednesday 20 January.

This comes after the riots and storming of the United States Capitol by some of Donald Trump’s hard-line supporters in an attempt to overturn the results of the election. Trump says he will not attend the inauguration and there are fears of fresh violence in the US capital.

Biden has said he plans to return the US to the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear deal and overturn Trump’s travel ban against some Muslim-majority countries.

MEPs will hold a debate on the EU-US relationship on Wednesday. Weber said he believes that, “the inauguration of the Biden presidency should mark a new beginning in our EU-US relationship.”

He added, “The last four years have been a major challenge for Europe; everywhere, people are asking what is left of our shared values and our common future.

“Together, the EU and the US must lead again on global standards in trade, the digital or energy sectors and form a strong alliance against anti-democratic powers in the world.”

“The last four years have been a major challenge for Europe; everywhere, people are asking what is left of our shared values and our common future. Together, the EU and the US must lead again on global standards in trade, the digital or energy sectors and form a strong alliance against anti-democratic powers in the world” EPP Group leader in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber MEP

Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, the leader of the European Parliament’s Socialist Group, Iratxe Garcia said, "The message I want to send out is that we are in full support of democracy and look forward to new opportunities for dialogue with the new administration.”

An ECR Group spokesman said their members would “seek to continue their support and collaboration with the United States.”

The Greens/EFA Group MEPs, in a statement, said they too “welcomed” Biden and Kamala Harris as his Vice-President and “strongly condemn the shameful riots supported and incited by the outgoing President.”

The statement went on, “The next US President and the whole government will have a highly difficult task in uniting the people of the US and facing the Covid-19 crisis and the climate crisis.”

“The riots in Washington, D.C. also shed a light on the situation in the EU and on where contempt for democracy and disinformation can lead. All democrats must stand up for democracy and act against those who fuelling hatred and disparaging open and inclusive societies.”

Aside from the debate on the US, MEPs face a packed programme at this week's plenary. Elsewhere, in a separate debate on Tuesday, MEPs will reiterate the need for “more clarity and transparency” on the EU’s Coronavirus vaccine contracts, authorisation, availability and deployment.

They will also ask for “additional clarification” on the present status of the EU vaccines strategy for COVID-19, launched by the European Commission in June 2020.

"The message I want to send out is that we are in full support of democracy and look forward to new opportunities for dialogue with the new administration” Socialist Group leader in the European Parliament, Iratxe Garcia

On Thursday, EU leaders will also hold a virtual special summit on the EU’s response so far, to the pandemic. The EU has faced stiff criticism for the perceived slow roll out of vaccines.

The commission has however defended its policy by saying that it is the job of Member States to order and also distribute vaccines and has urged EU national governments to speed up the process.

The UK has set the pace on COVID-19 vaccinations, with well over four million citizens now vaccinated, well ahead of most of the rest of the EU combined.

Centre-Right EPP group MEP Peter Liese, a medical doctor, said, “As we enter the third wave of the pandemic, coordination and cooperation between countries remains an essential part of the European strategy to beat COVID. We expect the special summit on COVID management on Thursday to increase investments in vaccine production capacity around Europe and to decide on a common approach for a European vaccination pass.”

The German deputy added, “We need a European strategy to allow those vaccinated to regain their freedom of movement in Europe.”

Liese said, “We want as many people as possible to be vaccinated as soon as possible. At the same time, to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that citizens continue to respect the measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus.”

Swedish Socialist MEP Jytte Guteland took what some might see as a swipe at the UK, saying the EU joint procurement and advanced purchase agreements for anti-Covid-19 vaccines are “very powerful and useful instruments” for the EU.

“As we enter the third wave of the pandemic, coordination and cooperation between countries remains an essential part of the European strategy to beat COVID. We expect the special summit on COVID management on Thursday to increase investments in vaccine production capacity around Europe and to decide on a common approach for a European vaccination pass” EPP group MEP Peter Liese

She added, “Together we are stronger. That is why we share the European Commission’s concern for unity and avoiding self-centred national positions that could undermine the collective leverage and cooperation. Only by working together will we find the best possible way forward and overcome this pandemic.”

Even so, her group, she said, will this week demand “better transparency to ensure full confidence among EU citizens and a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines between member states.”

The European Commission was given the mandate to negotiate joint procurement of COVID-19 vaccines with the aim of securing sufficient and equal access throughout all Member States. The number of doses going to each EU country depends on the size of its population,

A Greens/EFA Group spokesman said, “For us, transparency is the key to ensuring trust and safety in the vaccines. It is of paramount importance to have public access to the liability provisions in the contracts and to the clinical trial data.”

He called for “global solidarity by ensuring the swift and fair distribution of vaccines to citizens in less developed countries.”

In a busy programme for parliament MEPs will also discuss with Prime Minister António Costa and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen the programme of the Portuguese EU Council presidency which began on January 1.

This is expected to focus on addressing the ‘social dimension’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, achieving an inclusive climate and digital transition and on giving new impetus to EU relations with Africa and Latin America.

On this, Iratxe Garcia said, “2020 was a year of unparalleled challenges and today we are still in the midst of that same pandemic that changed our lives so dramatically. Emerging from the health crisis, we have to break with austerity once and for all, and end the unnecessary suffering that it brings to people’s lives.”

The Spanish deputy added, “This starts with rolling out the COVID-19 recovery and resilience packages in all member states to make sure that no one is left behind.

“With social rights at the heart of the agenda of the Portuguese presidency, we look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Costa to present his government’s priorities for the next six months.

“With the experience, political will and a programme based on solidarity, I am confident the Portuguese government will rise to the challenges ahead.”

The Greens/EFA spokesman said the group was looking to the new EU Council presidency for “a strong and ambitious European climate law, supporting vaccine rollout across the EU, and ensuring that recovery funds contribute to a greener, more social and resilient union.”

Meanwhile, in a joint debate and votes on three resolutions, MEPs will propose a series of measures to enhance gender equality and better protect women’s rights, notably during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

MEPs will this week also outline their proposals on how to govern the use of Artificial Intelligence in military and public domains and call for an EU law granting workers the right to disconnect digitally from work without facing consequences from employers.

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