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3 issues that will test US partnerships with EU allies

President Joe Biden will meet European Union leaders in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday. After the fractious relationship between former President Trump and many of those same leaders, Biden has been hailed as a fresh start by many of them. But issues still remain between the U.S. and Europe, especially over China. Nick Schifrin explores this moment.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden meets in Brussels tomorrow with European Union leaders, many of the same men and women whom he met with today at NATO headquarters.

    After the fractious relationship between former President Trump and many of those same leaders, Mr. Biden has been hailed as a fresh start by many of them. But issues remain between the U.S. and Europe.

    Nick Schifrin explores this moment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judy, that's right.

    And now we get two views on the state of relations between the United States and Europe. Jana Puglierin is head of the Berlin office at the European Council on Foreign Relations. And Heather Conley heads the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and was a State Department official focused on Europe during the George W. Bush administration.

    Thank you thank you very much. Welcome to you both to the "NewsHour."

    Jana Puglierin, let me start with you.

    Does Western Europe believe that the U.S. will remain a reliable partner beyond the Biden administration?

  • Janet Puglierin:

    Western Europe is terribly relieved to have Joe Biden as American president and not Trump. It feels like the nightmare is somewhat over, but we don't know how long that will last.

    So there is a fundamental insecurity in the transatlantic relationship seen from Berlin and Europe whether in four years' time, the United States, yes, will have a different president, a Trumpian president again, and that is actually a big worry here.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Heather Conley, is there anything that the U.S. can do to respond to that worry?

    Heather Conley, Director, Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Yes, it is increased bipartisanship.

    Just as President Biden said today on the margins of the NATO summit, NATO represents a key pillar of U.S. national security. That shouldn't be a point of contention between a Republican or a Democrat. So it is really creating that consistency of bipartisanship that allies amplify America's power and amplify our economic prosperity.

    And until our European colleagues see us with that credibility and that consistency over several elections, they aren't going to fully trust that America as an ally is back to stay. And I think that is really the critical question.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Jana Puglierin, let's talk about specifics here, beyond this idea of the transatlantic alliance.

    For the first time today, the NATO communique said growing Chinese influence — quote — "presents challenges." And over the weekend, the G7 communique called out Chinese forced labor.

    But we know that, in that negotiations, Germany, Italy, the E.U. resisted stronger language on China. Is the transatlantic alliance allied over China?

  • Jana Puglierin:

    For Germany that was a huge challenge to sign an agreement on China, because, from a German perspective, China is not only a rival, but also a partner. And our chancellor emphasizes that all the time.

    Also, from Europe, we kind of feel much more vulnerable when it comes to China and much more dependent. So, the big challenge for the chancellor and the Europeans was to find a balance between calling China a rival, having a confrontational stance, but also at the same time emphasizing multilateralism and the need to cooperate with China.

    And I think that leaders managed to do that quite well.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Heather Conley, is there an agreement between the U.S. and Europe, when Germany is trying to — quote — "balance" when it comes to China, and there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington to confront China?

  • Heather Conley:

    I think Europe is certainly evolved and its position related to China.

    And you see that in the G7 statement and, of course, the NATO communique, which was actually quite tough on China. But then, on the margins of that communique, it was French President Macron who said, look, China is not in the Euro-Atlantic area. This is out of NATO's area of responsibility.

    And you see those tensions play out. You will actually see China play out more forcefully in tomorrow's U.S.-European Union summit, where trade and technology — for China — Well, for Europe, China is a really important economic partner, for the United States as well. But Europe doesn't have the security concerns and interests that the United States does.

    But where the U.S. guides NATO, NATO typically follows. And this is a success for President Biden and his administration to have such tough language pretty consistently in two major summit statements.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Jana Puglierin, I have been talking to European officials here in Washington. And they are frankly not convinced the Biden administration is truly taking their opinions on board.

    And they cite, more than anything, Afghanistan, not only the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, the decision to accelerate the withdrawal to July. The Europeans objected to both.

    Do Western European leaders believe the Biden administration means it when it says it is taking its allies on board?

  • Jana Puglierin:

    Yes, I think so, although the Afghanistan decision or consultation was a huge below for Europeans.

    But there is a huge willingness to work with the Biden administration to make the transatlantic relationships prosper again. And also, yes, we know that we have basically this chance now to make it work and to prove also to the American people that Europeans are good allies and that the Biden approach, to work with allies, is better than the Trump approach.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Heather Conley, one senior Western Europe official put it this way: They're not interested in talking about alliance of democracies. They're interested in finding shared agenda items.

    Is there a shared agenda between the U.S. and Europe today?

  • Heather Conley:

    There is.

    And you will see that again play out today at the NATO summit, tomorrow at the U.S.-E.U. summit. The problem is both Europe has its own view of its priorities and its agenda, and it wants the United States to take that into consideration, and the U.S. wants the Europeans to move closer to its agenda.

    So that's always the trick. How do you find those areas where there's great intersection? This fear of consultation vs. informing of a decision, the U.S. is used to leading as informing allies, not truly consulting them. Again, as President — French President Macron said, leadership is about partnership. And we really have to form a long-term partnership and invest in our allies, so they can come to our point of view, not inform them and push them into an agenda item that they're going to be very reluctant to implement in any event.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, lastly, let's quickly examine one last point of friction, which is trade.

    The U.S. and Europe have pushed pause on a conflict over trade and tariffs and regulations, but the Biden administration has not lifted steel and aluminum tariffs yet. How much trade friction is there, Jana Puglierin?

  • Jana Puglierin:

    So, there is remaining friction.

    The Europeans very much hope that the sanctions or the tariffs will be lifted. And I think we are hoping for baby steps, to, yes, move closer to getting rid of the tariffs and to find areas where we can have special agreements. I think that's the European approach.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Heather Conley, baby steps?

  • Heather Conley:

    Well, the Europeans have been surprised that the Biden administration hasn't been more forceful on making those quick adjustments to the trade agenda.

    They wonder whether America first and buy America are really that different. So it'll be very important in tomorrow's U.S.-E.U. summit to take away some of those tariffs that are quite punitive and get back on the same page, particularly vis-a-vis China and technology and trade.

    So I think it's been surprising that the Biden administration has been so slow on trade policy. Hopefully, that will be rectified soon.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Heather Conley, Jana Puglierin, thank you very much to you both.

  • Jana Puglierin:

    Thank you.

  • Heather Conley:

    Thank you.

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