European Commission president joins senior MEPs in greeting the start of Biden Presidency

New EU-US relationship needed to address global challenges, says Ursula von der Leyen.
European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

20 Jan 2021

Speaking in a debate in the European parliament on Wednesday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen praised Joe Biden's oath as a “message of healing for a deeply divided nation”, but also as a “message of hope for a world that is waiting for the US to be back in the circle of like-minded states”.

EU-US leadership is - she told MEPs - needed to “address the many global challenges which need renewed and improved global cooperation.”

MEPs held a plenary debate on the inauguration of the new president and the current political situation.

Biden will be sworn in on Wednesday as the 46th US president but one notable absentee at the swearing in ceremony is Donald Trump, the first outgoing president since Richard Nixon not to attend their successor’s inauguration.

Von der Leyen told deputies, “And I am delighted that on day one – as they announced – of the new American administration, the United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement. This will be a very strong starting point for our renewed cooperation.”

Europe also “looks forward to seeing the United States join the common effort to fight the pandemic and secure vaccines for low- and middle-income countries.

I am delighted that on day one – as they announced – of the new American administration, the United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement. This will be a very strong starting point for our renewed cooperation” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen

Recalling the shocking images of the storming of Capitol Hill, von der Leyen warned that some people in Europe may harbour similar feelings and called for action to prevent “messages of hate and disinformation from spreading.”

She told the meeting, “We should take these images from the US as a sobering warning. Despite our deep-rooted confidence in our European democracy, we are not immune to similar events.”

“In Europe, too, there are people who feel disadvantaged, who are very angry. We must seek to address the concerns and problems of each and every one of our citizens, such as the completely justified fear of being left behind economically in the pandemic.”

“We must impose democratic limits on the untrammelled and uncontrolled political power of the internet giants.”

Also taking part in the debate, German EPP member Manfred Weber said that “today is a day of hope. Four years of dividing society are now behind us”.

The leader of parliament’s largest political grouping added that Europe was not in a position to lecture the US as Europe has the same problems. “Social media highlights extremist positions. Big Tech needs clear rules - they have to serve society”.

It is also important to take the concerns of Trump voters seriously, Weber said. “Protecting borders is not extremism. Let’s defend our common values and institutions together”, he said.

“Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris now have the task of healing wounds and overcoming polarisation to bridge the divide left by Donald Trump" S&D Group leader in the European Parliament, Iratxe García Pérez

Spanish deputy and S&D Group leader in the European Parliament, Iratxe García Pérez, told colleagues, “Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris now have the task of healing wounds and overcoming polarisation to bridge the divide left by Donald Trump. Extreme-right rhetoric has spread xenophobia, racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, climate-change denial and anti-vaccination activism.  Nationalistic populism is growing in all Western democracies, and we must fight it.”

She added, “Another challenge that we share with the Biden-Harris administration is the reconstruction of a multilateral system that ensures the respect of democratic rules and institutions. We Social Democrats are fully committed to revitalising the transatlantic association."

The MEP said, "We must come up with joint strategies in the frame of the Paris Agreement on the climate emergency, the nuclear deal with Iran, the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation and NATO.”

“The transatlantic agenda and the EU’s agenda are complementary, so let’s not fall into false dichotomies. A strategically autonomous Union would be the best partner for the United States.”

Greens/EFA Group co-leader Ska Keller, noted, "We would like to congratulate President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, and wish them and their entire team success in dealing with the immense challenges they face.”

“They are charged with uniting US society, getting a grip on the COVID-19 crisis and making America a reliable and constructive partner on the global stage again.”

“The EU and US need to work together as close friends if we are going to overcome the climate crisis, tackle global threats to health and support democracy and human rights worldwide.”

Renew Europe Group leader Dacian Ciolos added, “The attack on the Capitol has recognisable roots. Populism, the pursuit of individualistic interests while in public office, polarisation and big lies made up and propagated from the country’s highest office.”

“No democracy in the world is immune to these dangers.”

“Today is an opportunity we cannot miss. We need to roll up our sleeves and reshape our partnership and find a common vision on how to deal with common challenges” such as easing trade tensions, fighting climate change, and how to deal with digital giants, he added.

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