22nd Apr 2021

'Trump is history', EU presidency chief says

  • US president-elect Joe Biden could travel to Brussels in the first six months of 2021 (Photo:

The new US administration will be an opportunity to strengthen the transatlantic alliance, but differences will remain between the EU and the US even after Joe Biden's inauguration as president, the head of the EU's rotating presidency said Thursday (7 January).

Portuguese prime minister António Costa, talking to journalists as Portugal takes over the EU's six-month presidency, described the storming of the US Congress building "utterly unacceptable".

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He added that Europe expects a "peacefully normal transition" to the administration led by president-elect Joe Biden.

"Mr Trump is already history," Costa said.

The Portuguese premier also added the Biden administration "will be a major opportunity in creating a new climate in transatlantic relations", and called the EU and US "solid partners".

"It doesn't mean we don't have differences, like with regards to trade, or burden-sharing in Nato," he added, saying the relations could strengthen with the Biden administration in charge.

European leaders hope the new US president will show up in Brussels in the first half of the year.

European council president Charles Michel and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg both invited Biden to Brussels, but the timing has yet to be decided.

Leading MEPs, in a statement on Thursday, also said they are ready to work with the US Congress "to promote an alliance of democracies in the face of authoritarian rule".

"We look forward to a new chapter in EU-US relations that will give new impetus to our transatlantic agenda on issues as crucial as climate change, multilateralism, security and trade," the statement said.

Autonomy in alliance

The storming of the Capitol also served as a reminder for European politicians that resetting ties with a deeply-divided US will not happen overnight after the inauguration of a Democrat president.

Complicating matters further, the new Biden administration has criticised the EU's recent deal with China on investments, as it sought to work with the EU on a joint strategy toward Beijing.

The EU has said the timing was not deliberate and the deal's aim is to protect and boost European investment in China.

Spooked by the Trump administration unpredictable, "America First" protectionist policies, the EU has been seeking to forge a "strategic autonomy" as it is caught in the middle of an increasingly fierce competition between China and the US.

Costa said he hoped Biden would reinforce multilateralism in global politics, adding that Biden already sent signals by saying the US would rejoin the Paris Agreement tackling climate change.

The EU's "strategic autonomy" is one of the key pillars of the Portuguese presidency.

The presidency plans a meeting between the EU-27 leaders and India's premier Narendra Modi in May in Porto.

It also hopes the EU summit with the African Union leaders, which had been postponed at the end of last year due to the pandemic, can take place in the next six months.

Concluding a free-trade treaty between the EU and the South American bloc Mercosur that was agreed in 2019 is also on the agenda for the Portuguese presidency.

Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said on Thursday that failure there would damage the reputation of the EU.

The EU agreed in June 2019 to create a free-trade area with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela and Uruguay, but France and the European Parliament have since led the opposition to finalising the deal.

They argue that the Mercosur countries should do more to meet their climate commitments under the Paris Agreement and that Brazil is failing to combat deforestation.

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