Ahead of a European summit with Biden, the 27 reunite to tune their violins

European diplomacy, and its hot issues, is gradually regaining its rights, as health restrictions disappear on the continent.

It’s back to school. For the heads of state and government of the European Union in any case. The Twenty-Seven meet for the first time this year on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 May for a “face-to-face” European Council after several meetings organized remotely since December 2020. 

Five months later, the leaders of the Old Continent were initially to talk about climate to give some guidelines to the Commission in view of its legislative plan “Fit for 55” on the reduction of greenhouse gases. This will be discussed in Brussels, but the turbulent international news has come to expand an already dense program, thus adding the fight against the variants of Covid-19, the vaccine policy, the clashes in the Middle East , the attitude to adopt vis-à-vis Russia and more recently the subject of Belarus after the hijacking of an opponent’s plane , on the agenda.

All a short distance from Joe Biden’s first visit to the continent, and a United States – European Union meeting scheduled for mid-June – the day after the G7 summit in Cornwall, south-west of France. England- for which the Twenty-Seven had better speak with one voice. 

In search of an alternative to the lifting of patents

Because if the new Democratic president has not yet left American soil, some of his positions have already changed the game internationally, on the taxation of multinationals or the famous lifting of patents on vaccines against Covid- 19. The Twenty-Seven should debate this delicate subject, even if the Élysée prefers to speak of “international solidarity”, in line with the reproaches formulated by Emmanuel Macron against his American counterpart for his refusal, initially, to export doses to poor countries.

“In this debate, for us, it has always been a question, in view of the American announcements, of knowing what is the most effective in the short term”, argues the Presidency of the Republic on the issue of patents relying on the table by Joe Biden on May 6. Adding, in a new spike in the United States: “the most effective in the short term are exports and donations of doses, and not all our major partners do.”

The EU, which has not hidden its skepticism, will even offer an alternative to the WTO (World Trade Organization) to the option pushed across the Atlantic, according to the Trade Commissioner who spoke on Wednesday May 19 in front of the European Parliament. The Commission will “soon” submit a “proposal” to “facilitate trade and put order in export restrictions” in producing countries, promised Valdis Dombrovskisdit at a time when MEPs voted on the contrary, and despite their divisions , a resolution asking the Union to support this famous lifting.

But this new approach, advocated by the European executive, “deserves to be shared with the Member States so that we know the details”, for its part delays the Elysee, explaining that this option should be discussed at Brussels at the European Council. The idea would be to “work towards the use of all the flexibilities that are allowed by the TRIPS agreements (on intellectual property rights that affect trade) in the event of a pandemic rather than being limited to an ad hoc initiative” and thus not to “create a sort of emergency regime for the Covid-19 pandemic alone.”

Inaudible on the Middle East

In addition to the thorny issue of patents, the Twenty-Seven will also discuss the return to free movement on the continent or the vaccine strategy to be adopted for the future, among other subjects linked directly or indirectly to the pandemic. But, international news upsetting the diplomatic agendas, the leaders will also discuss the tensions in the Middle East, an issue on which Europe remained inaudible, because divided, and the United States particularly discreet until the adoption of a ceasefire on Friday 21 May.

Israel’s first economic partner and key support in the development of Palestine, the EU has in absolute terms several means of pressure. But they are difficult to use because of internal differences of views, for example Hungary refused to join a joint declaration during the week. “The divisions have increased between the member states under the influence of the Trump administration which has greatly radicalized the issue (…) the member states are just as divided to use the levers”, analyzes Pierre Vimont, French diplomat and expert at the Carnegie Europe center, for AFP, deploring “a total lack of initiative”.

Across the Atlantic, the Biden administration, for its part, privileged bilateral channels to the detriment of the UN – and to the chagrin of Emmanuel Macron – where it blocked any initiative calling for the cessation of hostilities, before Egypt does play a major role in the conflict. Now, the European Union and several leaders of the Old Continent are calling for the necessary relaunch of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, stopped in 2014, at a time when the United States seems to be withdrawing from the issue.

So many hot issues for the Union, to which are added the tensions with Great Britain, the “marked deterioration” of the relationship with Russia, in the words of the Elysee, and therefore Belarus against which sanctions could be taken. Two intense days of reunion, therefore, for the European leaders, who will do it again a month later by welcoming Joe Biden, with the objective:  “to rebuild a strong alliance” with the United States .

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