US-EU tensions aren't just a Trump problem

US-EU tensions aren't just a Trump problem

"Many European diplomats are already infatuated with Biden," a US-based analyst wrote in May about the so-called revival of the transatlantic relationship. Well, that assessment seems to have aged as well as an overripe banana.

This week, the EU advised member states to restrict travel from the US because of America's rising COVID infection rate. While that may be true, it could also be, at least in part, a retaliatory move: Brussels is furious that the Biden administration has refused to allow most Europeans to enter the country for 18 months, despite the bloc now having vaccinated more adults than the US.


Indeed, this tiff between Brussels and Washington is just the latest development amid ebbing relations between the two.

A leader the world respects? Since moving into the White House, Biden has portrayed himself as the anti-Trump: reliable, sincere and a loyal ally. Where his predecessor made a habit of berating and belittling allies, Biden has said "we need a leader the world respects," vowing to bolster bruised relations, particularly in Europe.

Yet, while Biden talks a nice game, many of his policies over the past seven months have in fact further irked some European allies, who say that the US president's "foreign policy for the middle class" — focused primarily on domestic issues like infrastructure and containing COVID — does not feel materially different from Trump's "America First" approach.

This was certainly the dominant view in big European capitals in recent weeks, as the US embarked on a go-it-alone approach in Afghanistan. Allies with skin in the game complained of being left in the lurch as the US pursued a unilateral evacuation plan. Germany and the UK, two of the biggest contributors to the NATO mission there, were particularly incensed, with the UK parliament issuing what some called an "unprecedented rebuke" of a US president.

What's Biden's game plan? Biden's short-term agenda is domestically focused, and one that he hopes will help the Democrats win midterm elections next year and keep control of the US Congress. Ending "forever wars," a view popular with US voters, is part of that agenda.

But in failing to consult with allies on how and when to pull out, Biden took a big gamble because now he needs his European partners to make progress on other key issues like climate change, data sharing, and China. (To date, Biden has found little support in pushing back hard against China from the EU, which, broadly speaking, has pursued engagement with Beijing.)

Indeed, getting the Europeans on side might get tougher. For instance, it could be harder for the US to continue dragging its feet on climate change if Germany goes greener under a left-leaning government after next month's election. Similarly, France's President Emmanuel Macron has long been pushing the EU to pursue a defense policy independent from the US, which is only going to be an easier sell after the Afghanistan debacle.

Are COVID restrictions the new steel tariffs? Like with the US-China rivalry, which devolved into tit-for-tat shenanigans, perhaps the EU is enforcing new COVID restrictions to get back at Washington. But Brussels is unlikely to do anything to really punish the Americans, because it needs the US — badly.

The US is the EU's largest trade and investment partner by a long shot, with more than 164,000 EU companies relying on exports to the US. The EU also depends on America's military might: "It would take decades for Europe to build up its conventional and nuclear military forces to compensate for what the United States and NATO currently contribute to the continent's security," Germany's defense minister said recently, pointing to the fact that the US accounts for 100 percent of NATO's missile defense capabilities, while much of Europe's own military hardware is in bad shape.

"Being likeable is not the same as being a good ally," Edward Luce writes in the Financial Times. Biden is certainly testing the limits of that approach. But will it backfire? Given the EU's reliance on the US, probably not.

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The German people have spoken. For the first time in over 70 years, the country's next government is all but assured to be a three-way coalition.

That coalition will probably be led by the center-left SPD, the most voted party, with the Greens and the pro-business FDP as junior partners. Less likely but still possible is a similar combination headed by the conservative CDU/CSU, which got its worst result ever. A grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU/CSU — the two parties that have dominated German federal politics since World War II — is only a fallback option if talks fail badly.

Both the Greens and especially the FDP have been in coalition governments before. But this time it's different because together they have the upper hand in negotiations with the big parties wooing them.

The problem is that the two smaller parties agree on little beyond legalizing weed, and even when they do, diverge on how to reach common goals. So, where does each stand on what separates them?

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China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

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40: Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing 40 Indian farmer groups, took to the streets Monday to mark a year since the start of mass protests against new farming laws that they say help big agro-businesses at the expense of small farmers. The group has called for an industry-wide strike until the laws are withdrawn.

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Germany's conservative CDU/ CSU party and the center-left SPD have dominated German politics since the 1950s. For decades, they have vied for dominance and often served in a coalition together, and have been known as the "people's parties" – a reference to their perceived middle-of-the-road pragmatism and combined broad appeal to the majority of Germans. But that's all changing, as evidenced by the fact that both performed poorly in this week's election, shedding votes to the minority Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. We take a look at the CDU/CSU and SPD's respective electoral performance over the past 60 years.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to all of you and thought I'd talk a little bit about Germany and Europe. Because of course, we just had elections in Germany, 16 years of Angela Merkel's rule coming to an end - by far the strongest leader that Germany has seen post-war, Europe has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed in many ways, the world has seen in the 21st century. Xi Jinping, of course, runs a much bigger country and has consolidated much more power, but in terms of the free world, it's been Angela Merkel.

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Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

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As the US economy powers ahead to recover from COVID, many developing economies are getting further left behind — especially those in Latin America. Economic historian Adam Tooze says the region, which did relatively well during the global recession, is now "looking at a lost decade." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: How the COVID-damaged economy surprised Adam Tooze

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