Papal audience, G20 meeting, climate summit: Joe Biden's second big trip takes him back to Europe. But this time the US president brings his own problems with him.
In the summer, when Joe Biden made the rounds in Europe, a lot was even easier: "America is back", so don't worry, we'll get it done - that's how the halfway new US president was able to feel on his first trip abroad smile through the program, it all looked good in the pictures, and he said it often enough. At the time, the aim was to clean up the fidelity damage of the Trump years with the Western allies, to cultivate the image, to reclaim the old leadership role in the world. Everything was about a new beginning, and despite all the skepticism, the joy about it was definitely noticeable on this side of the Atlantic.
Now Biden is back in Europe, especially for the weekend G20 meeting in Rome and then the climate summit in Glasgow. But apart from a private audience with the Pope this Friday, it should be rather uncomfortable on this trip - only his second big one, otherwise almost everything is virtual. Expectations remain high, many disappointments have been noted in the meantime, and the Trump glasses that Biden could easily shine through are no longer on. This time the US president brings his own problems with him, has to defuse his own conflicts and overcome his own weaknesses. It's going to be hard work.
Biden has promised a lot . After the return to the Paris Climate Agreement, this also included wanting to reduce US CO2 emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2005; In addition, electricity generation should be emission-free by 2035 and total emissions should be net zero by 2050. The question these days is whether he can deliver.
Everything a size smaller
His extremely ambitious social and infrastructure packages were stuck in the congress right up to the end - and with them the specific climate protection projects contained there, which were gradually softened. The energy transition was originally supposed to look like this: Reward investments in renewables and at the same time punish energy companies that continue to rely on fossil fuels - that could not be achieved. The agenda was also properly reduced in lengthy negotiations, but this mainly affected the social programs.
Shortly before his departure to Europe, Biden presented a new, reduced compromise, with more than 500 billion dollars available for climate protection. That would still be a lot if it worked out - and it would be very important: The US president's climate policy goals quickly get a credibility problem if he has to think everything a bit smaller due to the lack of unity of his party.
And now, of all times, when Biden wants to prove that he can take the lead in the global fight against climate change. Which, by the way, would mean that the world's second largest emitter is catching up with other industrialized countries when it comes to concrete steps. In any case, before the climate summit, many are hoping that the G20 round will provide a strong impetus that can spur the negotiations in Glasgow. Biden wants that too.
Whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage that in both cases neither the Russian nor the Chinese president attend personally, but merely join in, is an open question. What is known so far about the possible G20 final formulations leaves some room for improvement. The only question is whether Biden, after the domestic political attrition, which also cost him a lot in surveys, can still be as thrilling internationally as he would like to be: How can he convince other countries of something for which he is not really at home finds broad approval? The spirit of optimism is at least clouded.
"Driving the agenda full of energy"
And there is a lot more to discuss, from rising energy prices to sluggish supply chains and a global minimum tax for companies, from new negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program to the distribution of vaccines. All topics in which the USA sees the Europeans in particular as important partners; both would "drive the agenda full of energy," Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced earlier this week. Sounds like a good mood, but in fact the experiences of the past few months should continue to depress the mood of the allies.
The Europeans were already sobered by the lack of consultation when they withdrew from Afghanistan and can not immediately make friends with the new hardship against Russia and especially China . This series also includes the irritation that Biden finally wants to dispel at the beginning of his trip with French President Emmanuel Macron: The new alliance of the Americans in the Indo-Pacific cost the French a submarine deal with Australia that was believed to be safe and clouded relations with the government in Paris once more, plus that on the EU.
After all, a lot has been said since then, and the meeting with Macron this Friday should continue to have a calming effect and help deepen mutual commitments. Maybe that has to be enough for this tour of the summit: that the West pulls itself together a little - until the next disappointment.