by N. Peter Kramer
After the traditional first calls of a new US President to the leaders of the neighbour countries Mexico and Canada, UK Prime Minister Johnson was the first European leader to speak with Joe Biden last Saturday evening. After congratulations with the inauguration, Johnson warmly welcomed the president’s decision to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change as well as the World Health Organisation and the COVAX programme to ensure equitable access for vaccines.
Building on the UK and US’ long history of cooperation in defence and security, they re-committed to the importance of the NATO alliance, seriously questioned by Biden’s predecessor but also by French President Macron. Biden and Johnson discussed the benefits of a potential free trade deal between their countries. The prime minister reiterated his intention to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible.
The leaders discussed the need for coordination on shared foreign policy priorities including Iran, Russia and China. On the background, but probably unmentioned, Merkel’s deal with Russia on the controversial pipeline Nord Stream 2 and the fresh EU’s investment deal with China without caring for human rights, played a role. The two leaders said they were looking forward to seeing each other in person again (if possible) when the UK hosts the G-7 and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this year.
On Sunday President Biden had a call with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and expressed his desire ‘to strengthen bilateral ties with US oldest ally’, referring at the French support for the American Independence War at the end of the 18th century. The day after, Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked to each other on the phone. The US President let know that he is also looking to revitalise alliance with Germany. Nord Stream 2 was not on the agenda.
Both EU leaders got the message that cooperation with the EU is a top priority. Strengthen NATO was mentioned by Biden as well, but he did not (yet) remind Macron and Merkel to fulfil their NATO commitment to spend 4% of their GDP on defence. This was for his three predecessors (Bush, Obama and Trump) a continuing serious annoyance.
Not all five leaders were happy with Biden’s phone call. The Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau expressed his disappointment with the presidential decision last week to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that runs from the tars sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico off the US Southern coast. Probably a proof, that the new president, with only small margins for his party in both houses of the Congress, has to listen to the (radical) left of the Democrats.