Who Will Be Europe’s Next Leader?

For the last several decades, ties between France and Germany have been the engine of European integration. After centuries of war on the European continent through which France and Germany were historic rivals and often bitter enemies, culminating in the devastation of World War II, European nations searched for a way to eliminate inter-continental fighting. Many of Europe’s leaders argued that economic integration was the first step and believed it would eventually pave the way for a politically integrated union of European states. Both original signatories of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 – where France and Germany, along with Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, established the European Economic Community (EEC) –  and proponents of deeper integration, the partnership between Germany and France has been one of the driving forces ever since.

EU Leadership of Yore

Of course, friction continued to exist between the two partners. After World War II and for many years, France feared Germany would again become too economically and politically powerful, eclipsing its own position of power on the continent. Former French President Charles de Gaulle originally envisioned a Europe in which France and Germany would lead, but with France firmly holding the preeminent role. In those early years of the European integration project, Germany did play more of a supporting role to France as the German economy recovered and the country struggled to reconcile its place in Europe.

Today, however, the partnership dynamic changed. Germany now has Europe’s largest economy. In fact, Germany is considered to be the most powerful country in Europe, largely due to the long-serving German chancellor who just stepped down from office. During her 16 years in power, Angela Merkel led Europe, both domestically and on the world stage. And, there is likely to be a shift in the balance of power in Europe with Mrs. Merkel’s departure.

Could the New German Chancellor Fill the Void?

The new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, took office in early December. This change in leadership comes at a time when analysts believe that Germany and the European Union are facing much uncertainty without the solid and predictable leadership of the former German chancellor. While the incoming German chancellor would certainly wield significant power, remnants of Merkel’s impressive and steady leadership, it will be months before the new chancellor is comfortably leading Germany and likely focusing inwards, before turning his attention to Europe. As a result, many European leaders are now vying to become the next leader of Europe in Mrs. Merkel’s absence.

The French President is in the Mix

Leading the way is France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who, as the Washington Post reported, “has been jockeying for years to be the next leader of Europe.” Many are looking to France to fill the void as France views the recent German elections as a chance to reset since Mr. Macron will seniority over the incoming chancellor. France during the Merkel years may not have been the leading country or leading economy; however,  the role France plays in Europe is crucial. This is true even if Mr. Macron’s central proposals – common European defense, euro zone reform, a common asylum policy, and taxes on U.S. tech companies,  – are not widely supported with in the EU. Mr. Macron faces a presidential election in April 2022 that could limit his influence in Europe, leading to even more questions about who will fill the role of Europe’s leader.

Italy is Also in the Race

Another leader in Europe is proving able to lead Europe after Mrs. Merkel’s departure: Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy. The Italian leader – who saved the euro as the former European Central Bank president – has made his voice heard throughout the EU, including in Europe’s reaction to the U.S.-manufactured crisis when withdrawing from Afghanistan. He pushed for an emergency Group of 20 meeting and even reached out to U.S. President Joe Biden during the botched evacuation.

He has also stepped in the EU’s bungled COVID-19 pandemic response. He has spoken publicly about using approximately $235 billion in EU money for pandemic recover. He even halted the export of AstraZeneca vaccine doses from the EU bound for Australia due to a shortage of vaccines inside the union. Dubbed the Australia experiment, observers view this as a turning point for Italian leadership in the EU. Mr. Draghi is becoming increasingly well-known and respected across Europe because he is not just fighting for Italy, but for the entire union. Mr. Draghi has presented himself as a likely contender to become the next leader of Europe.

Two is Better Than One

Yet despite the enthusiasm surrounding Mr. Draghi and the expectations set for Mr. Macron, speculation remains on whether just one leader can fill the void. Analysts say, though, that the likely new leaders of Europe will be both French President Macron and Italian Prime Minister Draghi, working in tandem. Politico ran a story on the two leaders in July, calling them “Europe’s new power couple.” Mr. Marcon and Mr. Draghi have similar backgrounds and values as both are former investment bankers and longtime supporters of EU integration.

Moreover, the relationship between France and Italy seems to be improving by the day. On November 26, both leaders signed a treaty called the Quirinale Treaty – aiming to replicate the 1963 Franco-German Elysée Treaty – to continue to improve bilateral relations. Through recent actions, including the signing of the treaty, it looks as though both leaders are positioning themselves to take on the leading role in Europe together.

Iran Nuclear Deal Talks Are at an Impasse

In the first round of negotiations since last parting in June, Iran and the other signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China – met in Vienna, Austria to resume talks in hopes of reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Under a new regime led by hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, Iran struck a uncompromising tone with negotiators while the remaining signatories fought to keep negotiations running.

In 2015, the United States, along with other members of the P5+1, and Iran agreed to a deal, which limited its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions. However, the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 in an effort to launch a lackluster maximum pressure campaign against Tehran and ramped up economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Initially, Iran complied with the agreement after the U.S. withdrawal. After a year, though, Tehran became impatient and building up its nuclear program in breach of the agreement. The Biden administration came into office with the goal of reviving the deal. While negotiators, minus the United States upon Iranian refusal to negotiate directly with the Americans, are back at the table, it appears as though the nuclear deal talks are at an impasse.

Iran’s Demands Are Out of the Question

Iranian negotiators came in on the offensive for the seventh round of talks. Under its recently elected yet hardline regime, Iran is making nearly impossible demands, arguing, not without merit, that the United States is at fault for the current situation. For one, Iran demands the removal of all economic sanctions – not just the ones imposed on its nuclear program, but also those targeting Iran’s human rights, terror, and ballistic missile activities.

Iran is also seeking guarantees that the United States will never back out of the deal again, a promise that is impossible to make because of the nature of the United States’ political system. Only then will Iran come back into compliance with the nuclear deal. The Iranians have stated firmly that they want to revive the nuclear deal – even though it is not a priority for the Raisi regime – but contend that the United States must take the first step. The Iranians are unlikely to budge given their current demands, leaving the nuclear talks at an impasse.

Trying to Keep the Lights On

European diplomats walked away from last week’s negotiations with a more pessimistic view. A joint statement issued by British, French, and German negotiators noted that “Tehran is walking back almost all of the difficult compromises crafted after many months of hard work, and demands major changes to the text.” From their perspective, the future of the talks are not promising.

The United States’ European partners have been instrumental in the meetings with Iranian officials, as the United States, while maintaining diplomatic staff in Vienna as the talks resume, are not taking part in the talks as Iran refused to negotiate with the Americans. However, as the European diplomats observed, unless Tehran’s position changes, the talks have little chance in succeeding.

Not Even at the Table

The Biden administration came into office willing to re-enter the JCPOA. However, it is evident that American patience with Iran is beginning to wear thin. Secretary of State Antony Blinken summarized American feelings toward the talks: “What we’ve seen in the last couple of days is that Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s needed to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna,” he commented on Thursday.

U.S. and European officials have been warning for a while that time is running out. Biden administration has noted that diplomacy, though the preferred method, is not the United States’ option for preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. As American and likely European patience runs out the more Iran balks, the more the talks will remain at an impasse.

No Right to Exist?

A complicating factor for the United States in reviving the Iran nuclear deal is its strong partnership with Israel. Israel is increasingly concerned about the advances Iran has made on its nuclear program and regional activity. Israel, a nuclear-armed country, and Iran are mortal enemies as Israel views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat sine Iran does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Israel has reacted strongly to the news of a potentially revived deal, imploring its partners in the United States and Europe to halt negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated emphatically that Israel is not part of the negotiations and, therefore, not bound by the deal and stressed that Iran doe not deserve the diplomatic option. Without the Israel’s support – arguably the country with the most to lose if Iran does acquire nuclear weapons – the talks will remain at an impasse.

Charting Our Own Course

The United States’ Gulf Arab allies, much like Israel, are also concerned about Iran’s nuclear activities over recent months, and are frustrated over feeling caught in the middle in the United States’ conflict with Iran. At the same time, they worry about a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, observing that the deal is not sufficient enough to stop Iran from actually developing nuclear weapons.

However, despite their own concerns over the nuclear deal, most Gulf Arab allies admit that a flawed deal is better than no deal as a deal at least puts some guardrails on Iran’s nuclear activities. With little enthusiasm coming from its Gulf Arab allies – who are trying to chart their own diplomatic courses with Iran to deescalate tensions that have plagued the region for nearly 50 years – the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna will likely remain at an impasse.

Is American Really Back? That’s What America’s European Allies Would Like to Know

America is back,” claimed U.S. President Joe Biden in his first foreign policy speech after taking office after four tumultuous years of a Trump presidency. “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again,” he pledged in his inaugural address in January. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed these promises in a speech in March, noting that the United States was working tirelessly to “reconnect with our friends and allies, and to reinvent partnerships.” Based on rhetoric alone, the Biden administration’s intentions to repair the damaged relationships with its allies, particularly those in Europe, were unmistakable.

While the United States reasserts its return to diplomacy and reiterates the importance of its alliances, it is unclear whether these laudable yet ambitious pieces of rhetoric are actionable or only a pipe dream. In Europe’s eyes, the Biden administration got a lot right at the beginning of his presidency. Yet, in a year that seems to involve crisis after crisis in trans-Atlantic relations – including the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the inept handling of the AUKUS announcement –America’s European allies are questioning the United States’ sincerity. In the eyes of its European allies, is America indeed back? That still remains to be seen.

Is Europe Getting Left Behind?

The United States’ messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban in August is one example of why Europe is questioning whether America is actually back. With little consultation or communication, the United States “dragged its NATO allies into an embarrassing mess that they had warned against,” one that likely could have been avoided. The withdrawal triggered an age-old insecurity for Europe – wondering whether the United States was leaving Europe behind. This has led Europe to ponder whether it should invoke a strategic autonomy tactic most often championed by France. Mr. Biden, who promised to reset relations with American allies, came close to squandering the excitement and relief felt by European allies after he won the 2020 election as Europe is now coming to terms with the fact that they may never truly be able to rely on the United States for its security.

Is Washington Retreating from Europe?

The United States blindsided its European allies with the announcement of a formal alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia in September. To the United States, this was simply about deepening relationships with allies in its effort to counter China, a lynchpin of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. The announcement of the nuclear submarine pact caused confusion and disappointment in Europe. This is particularly true for France, the one European nation most directly impacted by the pact as Australia cancelled a $66 million submarine deal with France. France, naturally, reacted in anger, temporarily withdrawing its ambassadors from both Washington and Canberra, and cancelling a gala in Washington to celebrate the friendship between the U.S. and France. While France and the United States have largely reconciled, the abrupt nature of the AUKUS deal – which President Biden acknowledged was “clumsy” – caused some concern for America’s European allies since the root of Europe’s disappointment about the AUKUS deal is the fear that the United States is retreating from Europe – the central focus of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War – in favor for the Indo-Pacific region.

Great Power Rivalry Rears Its Ugly Head

The United States and its allies in Europe perceive the threats posed by China and Russia differently. President Biden has labeled China as the world’s “greatest geopolitical threat” of this century. As a result, he has re-shifted U.S. foreign policy toward the Indo-Pacific with the aim of countering China. The United States would prefer its European partners be part of its. Yet, Europe does not view China with the same level of alarm. Europe, as the French Finance Minister recently noted, wants to engage China as Europe is weary about of damaging the continent’s economic ties to the growing economic giant, though European sentiment may be changing.

Similarly, the United States and its European allies maintain disparate views on the threat posed by Russia as some in Europe – especially those in Central and Eastern Europe –believe the U.S. will not support its allies in the region in favor of improved relations with Russia. The United States’ decision not to sanction the German company overseeing the Russian-built Nord Stream 2 pipeline in favor of maintaining good relations with Germany only reinforced this fear. Just this week, Belarus, a Russian ally, weaponized migration by luring desperate Middle Eastern migrants to the Poland-Belarus border in an effort to force the EU to lift sanctions imposed against Belarus. Moreover, the recent buildup of Russian forces along its border with Ukraine has also alarmed the U.S. and its allies in Europe. To Europe, the United States’ myopic view to the threat posed by Russia is quite frustrating, though it seems that the United States may becoming more attuned to the threat.

Europe Is Right to Be Wary of the United States’ Reliability

The Biden administration came into office in January with promises to repair America’s relationships with its allies. However, several events as well as different threat perspectives are causing Europe to question the United States’ sincerity. Whether the U.S. is back remains to be seen, but the time has come for the Biden administration to review its policies toward Europe and assess whether the United States is doing what it can to reassure its European allies that the United States is back after four years of the turbulent Trump administration and an inconsistent first year in office.

The Oldest Friend

On September 17, France made a startling announcement. The French are recalling its ambassadors to both the United States for the first time after a recently announced deal in which the United States and United Kingdom would share nuclear submarine technology with Australia. France even cancelled a gala, celebrating France’s assistance in the United States’ battle for independence from the British at the French embassy in Washington, D.C. The French are truly angry, not simply making a dramatic show of political theater.

While the United States and France haven’t always had the easiest relationship, the United States has long heralded France as its oldest friend. As NATO allies with close economic ties, the relationship is traditionally built on the “shared commitment to the same values – democracy, human rights, the rule of law, security, and prosperity,” as the State Department announced in a recent press release. However, in the face of France’s ire, the United States does not seem to be taking France’s anger seriously. Despite the acknowledgement of only providing France with a few hours’ notice, the United States has largely played down what the French are calling as a crisis in U.S.-French relations. In the coming days, U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron will speak about the ordeal. While this is a good first step, the United States needs to work to reduce tensions with its oldest ally over the next few weeks.

A Different Kind of Ally

For one, France is a strong military ally, and it would do well for the United States to remember this fact. According to the Rand Corporation, France “currently possesses one of Western Europe’s most capable militaries…” France has been fighting Islamic militants in the former French colonies in the Sahel region of Africa. Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014, has included nearly 5,000 French soldiers being deployed across the region. The same day as the announcement about the sharing of nuclear submarine technology, President Macron announced that the French military killed the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, who was thought to be responsible for an attack that killed four American soldiers in Niger in 2017.

Additionally, France maintains a small contingent of troops fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and sent troops into Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led contingent shortly after the U.S. war there began, ending its military operations in 2014. Moreover, during an administration that claims to revere U.S. allies and partners and at a time when U.S. credibility is in question, the United States can use all the help, whether militarily or diplomatically, that it can find. For this reason, repairing the rift with France is in the United States’ national interest.

Strategic Autonomy?

For some in Europe, in particular in France, the recent row is renewing calls more strategic autonomy – Europe’s military, economic, technologic, and political independence from the United States. “The need for more European defense has never been as much evident as today after the events in Afghanistan,” noted the European Union’s foreign policy chief. To France, the same can be said after what the French perceive as a “major betrayal by one of its closest allies.” This sentiment, of course, is nothing new as President Macron has been pushing this line for nearly three years. This belief is also widely shared across many countries in Europe, with some being more discreet in their phrasing. Europe, after recent events, may take serious steps toward providing for their own security, relying less on its American allies.

The United States, in repairing the rift with France, should support this venture. For one, it would show support for an increasingly popular sentiment across France; it would show a level of respect for France and the relationship that has been missing in recent years from American foreign policy. Besides, a more independent Europe would benefit the United States as well. Not only would the United States be able to patch the rift in the relationship with a key and longstanding ally, but the United States would also accomplish a goal that has transcended the last few American administrations: Europe contributing more to its own security. Having a more capable, independent, and equal partner in Europe would benefit not only the United States and strengthen the U.S. relationship with both France and with Europe as a whole.

Conclusion

France is mad. However, the United States seems to underestimate the gravity of the French exasperation. This rift has the potential to turn into a full-scale diplomatic row. France has one of the strongest and most capable militaries in Europe, and also conducts counterterrorism against Islamist militant groups across the Middle East and North Africa, a goal the French share with the United States. Additionally, recent events are pushing France to further consider pursuing a strategic autonomy policy, one that lessens French and European dependence on the United States for its security. The United States should support France’s pursuit of strategic autonomy, which would benefit the United States as well as the U.S-France relationship. The United States must do all it can to preserve its relationship with France.

Subs Down Under?

On September 15, the United States and the United Kingdom announced a plan to share highly sensitive submarine technology with Australia. U.S. President Joe Biden, along with his British and Australian counterparts, unveiled the new defense alliance, known as AUKUS. As the first step, the United States and United Kingdom are going to bolster Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines, a fleet of submarines that are faster, more capable, harder to detect, and potentially more lethal than conventional-powered ones.

The alliance announcement is largely seen as part of President Biden’s larger pivot to the Asia-Pacific region and appears to be geared toward countering China’s rise, though the announcement did not specifically name China. President Biden’s recent decision to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia provides U.S. allies with valuable insight into the Biden administration’s approach to the United States’ alliance structure.

Maybe the Special Relationship is…Special?

The United States and the United Kingdom have long enjoyed a special relationship, dating back to World War II summarized by a phrase coined by former Prime Minister Winston Churchill 1946. Since then, the two countries have cooperated closely on security, economic, cultural, intelligence, and diplomatic matters. In particular, U.S. and British militaries maintain high levels of respect for one another and cooperate closely. In fact, the United Kingdom is the only country with which the United States shares such sensitive nuclear information, signifying an extremely high level of trust.

This new alliance between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia only further deepens the U.S.-U.K. relationship. In recent years, there has been discussion on whether the special relationship has more meaning for the British than the Americans. However, President Biden, through the recent announcement, illustrates the importance the relationship to his administration and his foreign policy efforts.  

Can We Make It Up to You?

While the United States and Australia also maintain long-standing military and diplomatic relations, relations between the two countries proved a bit frosty during the first several months of the Biden administration. The Biden administration, in the eyes of many allies including Australia, really dropped the ball by not communicating better about U.S. plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan, resulting in a cooling in the relationship.

The Biden administration’s inclusion of Australia on the announcement of this new alliance and the sharing of nearly sacred nuclear submarine technology serves several purposes for the Biden administration. For one, the new alliance bolsters the United States’ relationship with Australia. Moreover, the announcement of such an alliance with one of its closest allies in Asia further supports the Biden administration’s pivot to Asia and emphasis on countering China. Above all, however, this decision underscores the importance of the U.S.-Australian relationship in the Biden administration’s foreign policy efforts.

Forget About It, Europe!

Unlike the excitement the announcement caused in the United Kingdom as well as the surprise in Australia, the announcement raised France’s ire to a level not seen since 2003 over the U.S.-French disagreement over the Iraq war. This even led France to recall the country’s ambassadors from the United States and Australia. France’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called “the American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France” as deplorable. “This is not done between allies,” he further lamented. One reason for France’s reaction is because, until recently, France was pursuing a similar agreement with Australia. While the deal included less sophisticated technology for Australian submarines and that deal ultimately collapsed, France still feels slighted.

Another reason why this angered the French is because the United Kingdom is the United States’ partner on this deal, not France. This logic involves an age-old insecurity in which France has long been suspicious of an “Anglophone cabal pursuing its own strategic interests” to France’s detriment. There is some speculation that this decision could damage U.S.-French relations. There are also questions on whether announcement is a larger indication of the Biden administration’s view of the United States’ European allies. Much to France’s chagrin, however, this deal really had nothing to do with France or Europe; the announcement of a new alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia has other purposes: further deepening its relationships with the United Kingdom and Australia and, the Biden administration’s primary focus, countering China.

Conclusion

On September 15, the United States, with its British and Australian allies, announced that the United States and the United Kingdom would share nuclear submarine technology with Australia. This decision provides important insight into how the Biden administration views America’s alliance structure. Beyond that, the deal seeks to deepen the U.S. relationship with both the United Kingdom and Australia and as a part of the Biden administration’s efforts to pivot to Asia and counter the rise of China. It does not, however, indicate any changes in the Biden administration’s policy toward or affinity for America’s European allies, particularly France.

Mr. Blinken Goes to Europe, Part Deux

In my recent post, What About Us?, I argued that, on his trip to Europe in June, it would behoove President Biden to meet individually with both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in their respective countries as he did with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson before the G-7 summit in Carbis Bay, England. These in-person meetings in France and Germany would have staved off any unnecessary strains in the relationships over issues spilling over from the Trump administration.

Instead, the next week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after attending the summits alongside Mr. Biden, traveled back to Europe to meet bilaterally with the leaders and foreign ministers of Germany and France in Berlin and Paris highlight the importance of both relationships. In addition to meeting the German and French leaders, Secretary Blinken met with Italian leaders in Rome to “underscore the U.S.-Italy partnership’s important role in addressing key global priorities.” The purpose of Mr. Blinken’s post-Biden trip to Europe was to quell any strains in the relationship that Mr. Biden was unable to address during his time in Europe last month.

The question remains, did Secretary Blinken’s trip work?

Germany

Secretary Blinken’s first stop on his European trip was Berlin. During his time in Berlin, he met with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Chancellor Angela Merkel. He visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, noting that Germany and the United States were working together to counter antisemitism and Holocaust denial. While in Berlin, Mr. Blinken also attended a conference hosted by Germany and the United Nations focused on supporting Libya’s transition to a stable, permanent government.

Secretary Blinken’s visit to Berlin was not all work. He and Foreign Minister Maas grabbed a beer at a Berlin beer garden where Mr. Maas could hardly contain his excitement about his counterpart, noting how happy he was that the United States and Germany were on the same page again. “It’s more fun,” he added. Chancellor Merkel was equally complimentary and equally relieved, stating that “We are delighted that the American states, in order to quote the American President Joe Biden, are back again on the international, multilateral scene.” It was clear that Secretary Blinken was just as thrilled as the Germans to be in Berlin, observing that the United States has no better friend in the world than Germany. It is safe to say that, despite some lingering policy differences, Mr. Blinken’s top in Berlin was a success.

France

Secretary Blinken received a very friendly welcome in Paris where he met with Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian and President Emmanuel Macron where they discussed the tougher issues facing the U.S. and its European allies, including the Iranian nuclear deal, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and China. “My dear Tony, I’m really very happy to welcome you to Paris,” Foreign Minister Le Drian rejoiced.

Secretary Le Drian was not shy about celebrating the end of the turbulent years of the Trump administration, expressing his elation that the United States is back: “It is  excellent news for all of us that America is back. It is a comeback to the values that we share, it is a comeback to the multilateralism that we built together and it is our responsibility to continue with it intensively. This is what France and the Europeans had to fight for alone for four very long years.” Secretary Blinken returned the sentiment, affirming that the United States had no closer friend in the world than its oldest ally, similar to the statement he made while in Berlin about Germany. Much like his stop in Berlin, French officials were excited and relieved to welcome the American secretary of state, showing that the trip was certainly a success.

Italy

After his stops in Berlin and Paris, Secretary Blinken then traveled to Rome where he met with Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and where he was greeted in a similar manner as in Germany and France. He and Minister Di Maio co-chaired a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, with the aim of discussing the maintenance of pressure on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Then, he attended another meeting focused on Syria, with a focus of bringing an end to the country’s decades-long civil war. Mr. Blinken also visited the Vatican where he met with Pope Francis.

While Secretary Blinken’s stop in Rome was packed full of events, it also went a long way to reaffirming the U.S.-Italian relationship. In fact, Minister Di Miao paid the United States the ultimate compliment, in the eyes of the Biden administration, stating that Italy’s relationship with the United States vastly outweighed the Italian relationship with China. The United States has expressed concern over Italy’s ties to China, specifically after Italy, under the previous government, signed up for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which the U.S. views as problematic. “We are a strong trade partner with China, we have a historic relationship,” he admitted. “But it is absolutely not comparable, and it does not interfere with, the alliance of values we have with the United States.” In short, one could argue that Secretary Blinken’s stop in Italy reaped results that far outweighed what the Biden administration anticipated.

Conclusion

Secretary Blinken traveled to Europe in the wake of President Biden’s largely successful trip to Europe. During his visits to Berlin, Paris, and Rome to further Biden administration efforts to revitalize U.S. relations with its European allies, leaders in France, Germany, and Italy treated Secretary Blinken like a “rock star.” After the frustrating and destructive Trump years, European leaders received Mr. Blinken with relief and even joy, marking his recent trip as a rounding success.

What About Us?

My recent post, Backgrounder: Mr. Biden Goes to Europe, summarized President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe in June where he visited the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Switzerland to attend summits with the United States’ G-7, NATO, and EU allies. He also met individually the leaders of the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Russia.

Specifically, before the G-7 summit, President Biden met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Carbis Bay, England in an effort to reaffirm the special relationship. During this meeting, Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson signed an updated Atlantic Charter and Mr. Biden was not shy in raising his concerns about Brexit negotiations and the hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. 

What became evident, though, is that President Biden did not give two key Europeans the same attention he gave Mr. Johnson and the United Kingdom.  Germany and France are perhaps the most important U.S. allies in Europe, outside of the United Kingdom, and relations between the United States and these two countries were damaged during the Trump administration. In an effort to advance one of his central foreign policy objectives – repairing the United States’ relationships with its allies, particularly in Europe – Mr. Biden should have taken the time to meet with Chancellor Merkel and President Macron in their respective capitals during his European trip to symbolize the importance of these relationships.

Germany

An individual, in-person meeting with Chancellor Merkel in Berlin during the European trip would have gone far in simmering one particularly tense issue. At the center of the U.S. – German relationship is the disagreement surrounding Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline that will run from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany. President Biden and his team have denounced the project. U.S. officials on both sides of the aisle fear the pipeline will give “Russia too much power over European gas supplies.” Fundamental to this concern is the worry that Russia will exploit Europe’s energy needs as a means of getting its way in other foreign policy matters. Similarly, the United States is concerned that Russia will shut off gas entirely to Ukraine and Poland, starving the two countries of their own energy needs.

Ultimately, after Chancellor Merkel visited the White House in mid-July, the United States is no longer threatening to block the pipeline, deciding it was not worth risking its key alliance with Germany over a pipeline that is mostly finished. In short, Mr. Biden decided the United States’ relationship with Germany was more important. However, much of the unnecessary tension between the United States and Germany over the Nordstream 2 pipeline could have been headed off in an individual, in-person meeting with Chancellor Merkel in Berlin during his trip to Europe.

France

Similarly, an individual, in-person meeting with President Macron in Paris would have helped relieve any strain in the U.S. – French relationship. America’s European allies, particularly France and Germany, are relieved that President Biden is now in office, even if they are still a bit wary, and repairing damage to the transatlantic alliance caused by the Trump administration. But the damage was done. Europe began to doubt the United States’ commitment to the transatlantic alliance, and the continent is now looking to become less dependent on the United States in what it calls strategic autonomy.

The most vocal proponent of this autonomy has been Mr. Macron. This is an uncomfortable component in the relationship between France and the United States and represents a broader trepidation among European leaders about the continent’s, relationship with the United States. Mr. Biden has a lot to prove to the United States’ European allies, including France, and is on his way to mending some relationships that took a beating during the last administration. France is one of the key countries that President Biden has focused on in his efforts to repair alliances, and an individual, in person meeting in Paris during his European trip could have staved off some of the strain on such an important relationship.

Conclusion

While U.S. relations with its key European allies remain close and positive, France and Germany were both shocked by the poor treatment they received from the Trump administration. Mr. Biden came into office with a promise to revitalize America’s relationships with its closest allies, particularly in Europe. Still, certain issues have spilled over from the Trump administration and are still causing tension even now that Mr. Biden is in office. In light of the frustrations and anxieties among two of America’s closest allies in Europe, a meeting between President Biden and the leaders of France and Germany could have smoothed over any doubts about the United States’ commitment to the transatlantic alliance that may still exist.