A band-aid for the 17-year itch

Today’s summit is a strange beast: Instead of meeting all 27 EU national leaders, Biden meets only Brussels-based officials: Ursula von der Leyen, who runs the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch; and Charles Michel, who leads the European Council, the body where EU national leaders and ministers meet to sign off proposals drafted in Brussels. The trio spent the weekend together in Cornwall, and will be joined today by three EU vice presidents: Margrethe Vestager (tech), Valdis Dombrovskis (trade) and Josep Borrell, the bloc’s chief diplomat.

Brussels Playbook author Florian Eder says we can expect a “selfie explosion” from the EU side now that Michel and von der Leyen no longer need to share Biden with other allies.

What does each side want to achieve today on tariffs?

Barbara Moens, trade correspondenT:

Biden would love to use an EU summit in Brussels on Tuesday to show that America and Europe can unite against Beijing in the showdown for technological and trade supremacy in the 21st century, but wary Europeans want him to end trade hostilities against them first.

The grumpy European camp has a laundry list of unresolved differences in areas such as data transfers, green taxation and a global trade court, where U.S.-EU rifts are proving to be every inch as difficult to patch up as those with China.

Jakob Hanke Vela, trade correspondent:

A permanent deal on the 17-year-long Boeing-Airbus dispute over subsidies paid to plane makers would have done most to help rebuild trust.

Moens: Both sides are sick of the case but there are major differences over what kind of subsidies should be allowed for airplane makers.

Hanke Vela: EU officials complain the U.S. wants more transparency on EU subsidies, but refuses to reciprocate. Until now, France, Germany, the U.K. and Spain have not published details of contracts under which they grant Airbus “repayable launch investments.” But they argue that Washington also grants indirect aid to Boeing under secret defense contracts.

Ryan Heath, Global Translations author:

The most toxic dispute is over Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. The tariffs, which fly in both directions after the EU retaliated, have come with an $18 billion price tag, so far. The most senior EU trade official, Valdis Dombrovskis, last week accused Biden of hypocrisy for keeping them in place. Biden told a reporter who pressed him Sunday: “Give me a break. I need time.”

What about the recent transatlantic spying drama?

Laurens Cerulus, tech correspondent:

In the wake of reports that Denmark helped the United States eavesdrop on European leaders including Angela Merkel, EU countries are in an awkward position — they are trying to maintain pressure on Washington to rein in spying while avoiding uncomfortable questions about how they spy on one another, or help third nations do so. The unspoken fact about espionage is that it’s widely practiced even among allies.

Heath: Spying is a gray area: it’s awkward, but hard to prove as a breach of international law. The two sides are also miles apart on how to handle transatlantic data flows, a full year after the EU’s top court invalidated the previous pact, because it did not guarantee judicial oversight of U.S. government requests to tech companies for the personal data of Europeans. In practice the data keeps flowing, so many shrug that fight off, but it has the potential to affect many more people than the spying concerns.

Will the EU’s push to rein in big tech companies — which are mostly American — be a point of tension?

Mark Scott, chief technology correspondent:

Competition is part of the discussion, and Vestager met with Federal Trade Commission acting chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter yesterday. But tension is unlikely as Washington is pushing ahead with its own investigations into American tech companies, and members of Congress just dropped a bunch of antitrust bills.

Heath: Officials usually punt questions about ongoing legal proceedings — so I don’t see Vestager buying into a long discussion about her antitrust cases. She was known to Donald Trump as the EU’s “tax lady” and that’s a happier story to focus on — how to move forward the G-7 deal for a 15 percent global minimum corporate tax rate. I think both sides would rather stick to that.

Anything else we need to watch for?

David M. Herszenhorn, chief Brussels correspondent:

A protocol dance. The seemingly simple, routine joint greeting of Trudeau by von der Leyen and Michel for EU-Canada summit Monday was in fact the result of intense & exquisite diplomatic preparation to avoid inflaming EU presidential rivalries. Normal protocol calls for Michel to greet Biden alone (as Donald Tusk greeted Donald Trump), but instead we’re seeing von der Leyen muscle in on the action.

Heath: That’s payback and a lesson learned for an incident in May when Michel and von der Leyen met Turkey’s President Erdogan — and von der Leyen was relegated to a far away sofa during their trilateral meeting. It’s not a good look to be bumping the EU’s most senior female leader. This is 2021: Why have her there if she isn’t going to get equal treatment?

I’d also say that Boris Johnson is happy not to be stuck in today’s EU-U.S. trade talk. Instead he gets to crow about using his post-EU freedom to seal a new U.K.-Australia trade deal.

Alex Wickham, London Playbook author:

Johnson and Australia’s Scott Morrison thrashed out the agreement in Downing Street over a dinner of Scottish smoked salmon, Welsh lamb and Aussie wine (which will now be cheaper under the deal).

The deal secures a whopping 0.02 percent boost to U.K. GDP over 15 years.

Join us this afternoon as we put a bow on the week of summitry and preview the Biden-Putin showdown.

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