Brussels has set itself the objective of rebuilding transatlantic relations, which were degraded by rudeness or tariffs. The European Commission has already contacted the transition team of the president-elect, Joe Biden, to set an agenda that will begin to unfold from January 2021. The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Policy and Common Security, Josep Borrell (La Pobla de Segur, 73 years old) expects a change in the fight against climate change and the nuclear agreement with Iran. “Only these two things will completely change the world scene,” he says in a videoconference interview with the media that are part of the LENA alliance, including EL PAÍS.
Question. When her predecessor, Federica Mogherini, returned from her first trip to Washington after the inauguration of Donald Trump, she admitted that the relationship with the United States would be “à la carte” since then. Will Europe regain a systematic commitment with Joe Biden?
Reply. Who knows! I am convinced that Biden will not see Europe as an adversary, but that we will be friends, allies and partners. And I think we will have a structural relationship. But we must be realistic: in these years there have been great changes in the roots of American society that will remain after Trump. The first line of the United States is no longer Europe, it is in the Pacific. And the United States looks much more inward. That means that our role must be completely different from the one we have been playing since after World War II and look towards what we call strategic autonomy.
P. EU partners have exhibited differences from Donald Trump. Can that goal of strategic autonomy bring the Twenty-seven together?
R. Strategic autonomy is not something extraordinary. It is simply the adulthood of the EU, which has long slept under the protective umbrella of the United States. But it is a mistake to think that this autonomy has only a military dimension. Europe must be able to defend its interests and values. When possible, with your allies. But when it isn’t, on your own. And many threats are outside the framework of NATO. Europe must be autonomous in areas such as technology, trade, the exchange rate, control of migratory flows …
P. During the it was trump, the EU has tried to find its place between the United States and China. Is it time to weave a common strategy with Washington on the Asian giant?
R. We have not waited for the new administration. In recent weeks I have had a dialogue with the Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo to bring our positions closer to China. On both sides of the Atlantic we understand that the playing field must be leveled, with more reciprocity in our relations with Beijing. The problem is how to approach it. We do not want trade wars because we must also cooperate with China. Trump was wrong to open a trade war that he has not won, because his deficit has increased. I think there will be a change in the ways, but deep down, the attitude towards China is a matter of consensus in the US.
P. With the defeat of American first, Will cooperation in the field of covid-19 be more viable?
R. The starting point is completely different. Until now there has been an Administration that rejected that it had to face a danger. It was a denialist administration, saying that the problem did not exist or that the battle had already been won. And it’s not going to be won until we have the vaccine. Instead, Biden was very clear in the electoral debate that it is a problem to face.
P. The United States will return to the Paris AgreementBut in the face of such abrupt policy changes, aren’t you worried that they will no longer be a reliable partner?
R. Of course, it would have been better if they didn’t leave the deal, but he did so on Monday and will be back in 72 days. In practical terms, nothing has happened. On the other hand, some governments have a different point of view than their predecessors or successors, so that a change of executive may lead to a revision of the commitments. For us it is not good, but it is part of the rules of the game. Spain withdrew troops from Iraq [en 2004] when he changed government. Does that make Spain an unreliable partner?
P. Do you expect a return from the United States to the Iran nuclear deal?
R. That is more complex and sensitive. Iran has always been a difficult business for the United States. I think the new Administration will understand that changing the agreement just to change it is very expensive. And that thanks to this agreement, Iran today is not a nuclear power. And our common interest is that it is not. However, Iran expected economic rewards in exchange for stopping its nuclear program that it did not obtain. I hope the new Administration understands it. Let’s see what happens and hopefully they understand that it is not a matter of abandoning one agreement to build another. It took 12 years to sign this one.
P. Was the imposition of tariffs on the Boeing dispute a smart “welcome gift” for Biden?
R. It is neither a gift nor a punishment. There was a timetable and the end of the procedure was reached. It would have been strange not to have imposed them because Biden had won. It had to be done, it has been done, and we are prepared to speak up and lift those tariffs if they do the same. Those taxes have been a form of sanctions and trade a weapon. And we don’t want to play that. We do not want to arm the trade.
P. The leader of the ranks of the popular Europeans, Manfred Weber, proposed a global trade agreement. It’s the moment?
R. So far, the United States has rejected a global trade deal. Even a partial one. Perhaps the new administration is more prepared, but I do not think it is their priority.
Also participating in the interview was Alberto D’Argenio (La Repubblica), Tomasz Bielecki (Wyborcza Gazeta), Stephan Israel (Tages-Anzeiger), Laura Mercier (La Tribune de Genève), Philippe Regnier (Le Soir) and Anne Rovan (Le Figaro).