Jun 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's European optimism collides with reality

President Biden is seen walking up the steps of Air Force One as he departs for Europe.

President Biden departs for the United Kingdom. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

As President Biden departed Washington, he told reporters he was going to use his first foreign trip to make "clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight and the G7 is gonna move."

Why it matters: The problem is his statements regarding the allies' shared objectives are not supported by the statements and actions of the allies themselves.

  • Biden's optimistic words and their bottom-line deeds will collide during a G7 summit in the U.K., a NATO gathering in Brussels and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Between the lines: Two powerful European countries — Germany and France — don't appear to be on board when it comes to presenting a united front against China and Russia.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to strengthen European financial connections with the Chinese. She has been the most prominent European voice advocating for an EU-China investment deal.
  • She's also determined to complete and operationalize the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
  • The Germans have made clear to the Biden administration they won't back down on this project, regardless of U.S. pleas or pressure.

Biden all but conceded defeat by waiving sanctions on the company overseeing construction — clearing the way for the pipeline's completion.

  • Completing the project is a major win for Putin.
  • He now has a potent lever to increase his influence in Europe and over vulnerable states such as Poland and Ukraine.
  • Each scenario is another means of furthering his efforts to divide NATO.

French President Emmanuel Macron has also made public statements conflicting with Biden's comments.

  • In February, Macron warned against the idea of the European Union joining the U.S. to confront China.
  • "A situation to join all together against China, this is a scenario of the highest possible conflictuality," Macron said. "This one, for me, is counterproductive."
  • Macron also has called for European "strategic autonomy" — a phrase that implies a distance between Europe and the U.S.

The bottom line: Biden's meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels is crucial to his plan for reestablishing the Atlantic alliance that former President Trump pilloried and was accused of undermining.

  • A major goal of the trip is promoting alliance unity on Russia.
  • The actions that European leaders have already taken, though, are now speaking louder than any joint statement they ultimately produce in Brussels.
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