Accessibility links

Breaking News

Europe Prepares Warm Welcome for Biden at G-7, but Skepticism Remains

U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrive at RAF Mildenhall, England, ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall, June 9, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrive at RAF Mildenhall, England, ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwa
U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrive at RAF Mildenhall, England, ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall, June 9, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrive at RAF Mildenhall, England, ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwa

Leaders of the G-7 group of industrialized nations meet this weekend in Britain, with an agenda topped by the global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, taxation, and the challenges posed by Russia and China.

The three-day summit beginning Friday will be held at Carbis Bay, a popular tourist resort in Cornwall on Britain's southwestern peninsula. British warships are patrolling the coastline and more than 6,500 police officers have been deployed as Britain prepares to host the leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.

Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa also have been invited as guests.

The summit marks President Joe Biden's first official overseas trip while in office. Speaking to reporters Wednesday at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland as he prepared to fly to Britain on Air Force One, Biden was asked about his priorities for the trip. "Strengthening the alliance. Making clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight, and the G-7 is going to move," Biden said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday he was looking forward to hosting allies face to face. "This is the first time for almost six months in office almost that Joe Biden the U.S. president has been able to come overseas for a major trip; it's his first time on the European continent. It's the first time that any of us really have been able to see each other face to face since the pandemic began.

"So here at the G-7, what we're looking at is making sure we have a new treaty on the pandemic, working on that, building back greener, building back better, which is why we're looking at what's going on here in Cornwall with all of the green technology, but also talking about the values we have in common, everything we want to do together. There's a huge agenda," said Johnson.

After four years of troubled transatlantic relations under former President Donald Trump — whose "America First" agenda alienated many allies — Biden will receive a warm welcome in Europe, says analyst Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"The attempt to rebuild trust — lost trust — with allies is at the heart of the agenda. And that message comes across loud and clear," Kleine-Brockhoff told VOA. But he added that the scars have not yet fully healed.

"There's sort of a lingering suspicion that Joe Biden could be an outlier, an intermezzo between two nationalist presidencies, and an America that has changed for the long haul. And so, the investment into the Biden administration [by European allies] is not as immediately visible as the Biden administration would hope," Kleine-Brockhoff said.

Nonetheless, analysts say the G-7 leaders will put on a strong show of unity amid numerous challenges, says Creon Butler, a former British government adviser on the G-7 and now the director of the Global Economy and Finance Program at London's Chatham House foreign policy institute.

"The COVID recovery generally is the top item, and you can see that in the way that the U.K. is presenting the summit," Butler told VOA. "There is a sort of economic aspect and then there are other aspects, particularly on the health side."

The summit host, British Prime Minister Johnson, has pledged the G-7 will help to vaccinate the whole world by the end of 2022. One of his predecessors, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, says that rhetoric must be turned into reality.

"I think it's no exaggeration to say that Friday's G-7 is a life and death matter. Its decision will determine who is vaccinated and safe and who remains unvaccinated and at risk of dying," Brown said at a virtual meeting held Tuesday by Chatham House.

G-7 leaders also will focus on tackling climate change, and trade and taxation are high on the agenda. G-7 finance ministers last week backed a plan for a minimum global tax rate of 15%. "This bit is really quite revolutionary," said Butler. "As, indeed, is the agreement on sharing taxing rights around — so not just in the location where the tax residence of the company is, but also in locations where a company may have very large revenues but pay very, very little tax."

Butler said Britain's hosting of the G-7 summit provides an ideal platform for the government to project a new image now that it has left the European Union.

"Actually, the G-7 is now even more important for the U.K. and actually for the Western alliance more generally, now that the U.K. has left the EU, because, certainly for the U.K., things that you might have wanted to coordinate and work with the EU on within the EU, the G-7 is now the logical place to do it."

The threat to G-7 democracies from Russia and China also will be discussed in Cornwall. Biden will be hoping for a strong response from allies, says analyst Kleine-Brockhoff.

"The question as to whether Western countries can find a joint approach vis-à-vis China, and whether President Biden can get the language and the commitment that he needs also for his domestic political purposes out of his European allies ... that to me is the big question," said Kleine-Brockhoff.

Several of the G-7 leaders will go straight from Cornwall to Brussels on Monday for a NATO summit. Biden is then scheduled to meet European Union leaders Tuesday.

Analysts say the sequence of meetings is aimed at underscoring allies' support ahead of Biden's summit Wednesday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva.