Senior Greens MEP sounds warning over Biden’s ‘charm offensive’ towards Europe

Reinhard Bütikofer’s comments come just ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Brussels later this week.
Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

10 Jun 2021

The US President, who arrived in the UK on Wednesday, ahead of the G7 Summit in Cornwall on Friday, will travel to Brussels over the weekend, where he will attend the NATO and EU-US summits.

Most observers see this, Biden’s first overseas trip since his election, as a chance to repair transatlantic relations in the wake of the controversial Donald Trump era.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Bütikofer, foreign policy spokesperson for the Greens/EFA group, said the upcoming EU-US summit could “play a decisive role in the development of transatlantic relations for the Biden presidency.”

The German MEP told reporters, “So far, the relationship has been characterised by a charm offensive on the part of the Biden administration which has told us time and time again that the US is now back in the business of working with its allies.”

“It has underscored this by taking a few U-turns on decisions taken by the previous administration. But, on the other hand, from the EU side, the relationship has been characterised by some reluctance and by some suspicion even.”

“This was perhaps best expressed when President Biden spoken at the Munich Security Council, where he tried to  convince EU partners that the age of a strong transatlantic relationship should return but both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron gave him the cold shoulder.”

“Both of them later made a very deliberate effort to signal to Washington that they were not prepared to join the anti-China camp that President Biden is building.”

The MEP, who was speaking from Berlin, told reporters, “I would argue that while the challenge posed by China will be a central focus of Biden’s foreign policy we should avoid being drawn into a China-centric order; the US has to reach out to its allies and find a new common cause.”

“On the EU side there is a suspicion, which seems to be particularly strongly felt by Mrs Merkel, that this new love by Washington for transatlantic cooperation may not be a reliable bet in the long term” Reinhard Bütikofer, Greens/EFA

He added, “In the West, we have known for decades that we cannot work alone without US engagements. Now, for the first time in the last 70 years, the US realises that this [China] challenge can only be successfully met if they also actively invest in a partnership.”

He cautioned, “On the EU side, however, there is a suspicion, which seems to be particularly strongly felt by Mrs Merkel, that this new love by Washington for transatlantic cooperation may not be a reliable bet in the long term.”

He added, “It has been a long time since a G7 summit gave rise to positive expectations, but there is still a considerable way to go and this can only be achieved if the EU not only demands equal partnership from Biden - ‘partnership in leadership’ - but also develops practical ambition to provide it.”

Speaking separately, S&D deputy Tonino Picula, Parliament’s rapporteur on the US and the S&D spokesperson on foreign affairs, said, “It’s highly significant that US President Joe Biden choose Europe as the destination of his first overseas trip. We take it as a sign of the renewed commitment to multilateralism and the transatlantic relationship by the Biden-Harris administration.”

“The transatlantic link is a bedrock of the international rules-based system that ushered the world into an era of peace and prosperity after WWII. This relationship was undermined by the unilateralist and isolationist tendencies of the Trump administration. We have to seek to redefine our relationship on an equal footing and take greater responsibility.”

Meanwhile, in Wednesday’s parliamentary debate on the EU/US summit, Greens co-leader Philippe Lamberts urged the G7 leaders to “build on the finance ministers’ meeting and take the historic momentum and set effective limits for tax competition.”

The Belgian deputy said, “The status quo will harm both national budgets, citizens and investment in public infrastructure to rebuild our economies after the COVID-19 crisis. We urge the G7 and EU leaders - and in particular France, Germany, Spain and Italy - to take the courageous step and set a minimum effective tax rate of 21 percent, which would yield double the tax revenues for the EU compared to the current proposal of 15 percent.”

“We call for the governments and von der Leyen to stop blocking a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and support Biden, South Africa and India.”

“It has been a long time since a G7 summit gave rise to positive expectations, but there is still a considerable way to go and this can only be achieved if the EU not only demands equal partnership from Biden - ‘partnership in leadership’ - but also develops practical ambition to provide it” Reinhard Bütikofer, Greens/EFA

In the same debate, Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloș warned that the stakes are high for the G7 and EU-US summit and insisted on the need to stand together as democracies, and face our challenges “united in firmness and courage.”

The Romanian member told MEPs, “More and more authoritarian leaders are openly challenging our democratic systems and we need be united and firm in our response.”

“On climate change, the introduction of mandatory disclosure of climate-related financial data and corporate climate transparency would be an essential first step to send a strong signal that we can no longer bury our heads in the sand.”

He added “I want to welcome the historic decision of the G7 Finance Ministers on the principle of a minimum tax rate of 15 percent on the profits of multinationals. The current international tax rules are over a century old. It is an unfair system that we cannot explain to our citizens. The OECD must follow the lead of the G7.”

He appealed to G7 leaders to strengthen their support for COVAX, the main instrument of solidarity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, adding, “no one will be safe until everyone is safe - global solidarity is key in this respect.”

Elsewhere, a major new polling report published on Wednesday by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) says that despite the Biden administration’s efforts to re-engage with the international community, only one in five see the US as an “ally” that shares in Europe’s “values and interests.”

In the main, respondents to ECFR’s survey see the US as a “necessary partner” (44 percent), who they “must strategically cooperate with” on the international stage. Respondents in Poland and Denmark were most likely to see the US as an ally that shares their “values and interests.”

Half or more of the respondents in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Spain, France, and Portugal still think the American political system is broken, while in Poland, Hungary and Italy majorities believe it works well/very well.

The poll says that confidence in the United States is still low, with Europeans seeing Turkey as a greater “rival” or “adversary” than China or Russia.

One of the report’s authors, Susi Dennison, senior policy fellow and the head of ECFR’s ‘European Power Programme’, argues that EU leaders have an opportunity, at the upcoming G7, NATO and US-EU summits, to “reboot” the European project and “win back” the trust of Europe’s citizens.

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