So many heads of state and government at the latest G-7 meeting this week, including those from Germany, France and Canada, just seemed intent on getting past Trump; so much so that they greeted Biden like an old friend, even if he wasn’t.
When world leaders were walking down St. Ives Bay just before the summit began, French President Emmanuel Macron, who had never met Biden before, put his arm around him and the two of them walked arm and arm. They had a short but lively conversation that also included ways to make democracies more effective for the middle class, one of Biden’s favorite topics.
Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference after meeting the heads of state of the Federal Republic of Germany on June 10, 2021 in Berlin. | Pool / Getty Images
“It is of course important to be able to meet Joe Biden, because he stands for the commitment to multilateralism that we have lacked in recent years,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of Trump’s favorite goals, shortly after arriving at the summit on Friday .
Even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is closer to Trump than any other G7 leader, said everyone was “absolutely thrilled” to see Biden and called their meeting “a breath of fresh air”. When reporters later asked if the comment was criticism of Trump, the prime minister’s spokesman said it simply reflected their common interests in security and climate change.
Some of the camaraderie in England could be ascribed to world leaders who simply practiced the diplomatic art of open flattery. Much of this, however, experts say, is the result of the return of international relations after four years of intense whiplash. The leaders may not have pronounced Trump’s name out loud, but his presence was felt.
“The relief of our friends over the change of government cannot be described. And not just because it’s not Donald Trump anymore, ”said Stephen Sestanovich, a former National Security Council and State Department official. “The fact is that Allianz is lagging behind with real problems that need to be solved. The Biden administration wants to talk about how to develop cooperative responses to them that the Trump administration could never mean seriously.
Biden arrived in England on Wednesday to attend several meetings – the G-7, NATO and those with the leaders of the European Union and the European Council – and to discuss a variety of topics including Covid, the economy and the Challenges for Russia and China. His last stop will be in Geneva, where he will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a meeting for which Biden has already received criticism.
This week, the G-7 are expected to organize no fewer than eight committees dealing with political issues, including the corporate tax rate (an agreement has been reached between the G-7 to introduce a minimum rate of 15 percent), Technology, commerce, travel, and the pandemic. These working groups generally did not exist when Trump was President.
Instead, Trump, who never held office before he was elected president, played the role of the troublemaker, ridiculed international institutions, undermined trade deals and challenged US military commitments and bases abroad. He partially supported Brexit in order to delegitimize the European Union, constantly criticized countries for not spending enough on defense and imposed tariffs on European exports.
Biden, who was both a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and Vice President for decades, is internationally recognized as someone who U.S. allies can work with on issues ranging from climate change to making Iran accountable for its nuclear ambitions.
After Biden’s election, foreign leaders and diplomats quickly announced that the new American president would bring back something that had been missing for four years: normalcy.
“America is back. And we are happy to have you back, ”European Council President Charles Michel told Biden during a video summit in March.
Still, some heads of state and government are skeptical that US politics, with its deep party divisions, will remain stable enough for the country to return to its place as a reliable world power. Le Monde, a leading French newspaper, said in a post-election editorial that “Trumpism” was not a coincidence but an “enduring legacy of American politics”.
“The Allies have lingering doubts about the forces that created Trump’s election in 2016, wondering whether those forces have finally disappeared or whether the US could revert to a more controversial, transactional approach to NATO in 2022, or 20-2024” said Alexander Vershbow, former NATO deputy secretary and former ambassador to South Korea and Russia. “I think this concern is real, that Trump’s trending tendencies in the US could return with boredom. And in the midterms or in the next presidential election. “
But Vershbow, now a member of the Atlantic Council, said that now that Biden is in office, the European allies are taking unique approaches towards the US. Germany, for example, would like the US to be back at the top, while France thinks that the US can no longer be trusted as much as it used to be. But Macron, who has tried to fill the leadership vacuum left by Trump, seemed to snuggle up to Biden so much that their interactions sparked a flurry of social media attention, leading the UK media to label it as emerging bromance.
The two will officially meet on Saturday.
Biden has tried to nurture the idea that he is Trump’s inverse on the global stage. Since taking office, he has rejoined the Paris Agreement, has supported attempts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, has spoken repeatedly about the importance of alliances, international diplomacy and stressed America’s commitment to allies and partners. He has assured leaders that the US would support NATO’s collective defense doctrine and help a member state in the face of Russian aggression.
But there are still some concerns about American politics under Biden. Countries worry about US decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11; the lack of urgency to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to bring gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea; and the way the US is approaching its economic rival China.
A view of Nord Stream 2 pipes in the port of Mukran near Sassnitz, Germany. | Axel Schmidt / Getty Images
Johnson, who held a bilateral meeting with Biden on Thursday, supports Biden’s commitment to fighting climate change and sharing the Covid vaccine with poorer countries that health officials said should have happened earlier. But he’s still waiting for Biden to help enforce a UK-US trade deal.
Heather Conley, who served as assistant secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration, said U.S. allies thought the Biden administration would follow their agenda, but instead, Biden seems to want them to follow his.
Still, Conley said, it is a marked departure from the Trump era in politics and tone. The leaders may still have their differences of opinion, but they will resolve them behind closed doors or through diplomatic channels.
“There’s no longer a fear of a NATO or G-7 summit, or the fear that the meetings will turn US policy upside down,” said Conley, now senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Before, during and after the summit, much more energy was put into managing or tempering former President Trump than the actual summit agenda. This does not mean that the US allies agree with the Biden administration in their initiatives, but these meetings will be predictable, stable and potentially productive. “
Ryan Heath, Rym Momtaz and Esther Webber contributed to this report.