U.S. President Joe Biden makes a guest appearance at the European Union’s monthly summit Thursday, which will also be dominated by tensions over COVID-19 vaccinations and the pandemic’s latest surge in parts of the 27-member bloc.
Discussions with Biden might be one of the few upbeat moments during this EU summit, taking place by videoconference because of coronavirus lockdowns in several member states. Both sides want to repair transatlantic ties that frayed under former president Donald Trump.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made that clear in Brussels Wednesday after meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“As President Biden has said, the United States will work closely with our allies and our European Union partners across the continent to address our shared challenges and to meet our shared goal of a Europe whole, free and in peace,” Blinken said.
The last U.S. leader to join an EU summit was former president Barack Obama in 2009.
EU leaders are also discussing ways to boost their vaccine supplies, amid a resurging pandemic in some places. They’re facing mounting criticism from European voters over the bloc’s slow vaccine rollout, which sees it lagging well behind the U.S. and a number of other countries.
The EU’s executive arm has proposed temporarily curbing vaccine exports to ensure its citizens have greater access—and equal treatment by other exporting nations, starting with ex-member Britain.
"Just since the introduction of the export authorization system, some 10 million doses have been exported from the EU to the UK and zero doses have been exported from the UK to the EU," noted European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. "So if we discuss reciprocity, solidarity and global responsibility, so it's clear that we also need to look at those aspects of reciprocity and proportionality."
Britain warns against the EU’s proposed curbs, which are also dividing member states. Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said countries need to work together in confronting the pandemic.
"I will make it clear at our meeting this week that I do not support actions that would disrupt vital supply chains and undermine vaccine production when the situation remains so fragile," Martin said.
Some EU countries also want changes to the bloc’s current method of distributing vaccines —another divisive issue that also promises to make this summit a difficult one.