Von der Leyen’s crisis visit to Joe Biden: if it fails, Europe will fail

At her meeting with US President Joe Biden, Ursula von der Leyen is under pressure. Because the German EU Commission President needs success. But she has an advantage.

It is probably the most important appointment that Ursula von der Leyen has completed this year. After campaigning for a green energy partnership with Justin Trudeau in Canada this week, the German EU Commission President is a guest at the White House this Friday. There she has to talk to the US President about many things that are crucial for the fate of Europe – and also for her own career.

After decades of peace and economic recovery, the old continent is threatened with nothing less than a colossal overload. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the growing challenges with China and the growing expectations of the USA are putting the international community of the European Union under pressure. At the same time, the economic situation has deteriorated dramatically.

Ursula von der Leyen therefore came to Washington to promote understanding. For the USA coordinating as much as possible with the Europeans on their economic policy. Von der Leyen’s success with Joe Biden will determine how well Germany and the other EU countries will get through the 21st century – an age in which it is no longer oil and gas but hydrogen, renewable energies and critical minerals that are more important than national security decide.

In the US, von der Leyen is considered a doer

Speed ​​is not a strength of the EU – Ursula von der Leyen recognized that early on. Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she had gained a dubious reputation in Brussels for taking things into her own hands during the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, their proposal at the time to adopt a rescue package worth two trillion euros was made public without prior consultation with the EU heads of state and government. A rebuke by her actual patron, Angela Merkel, made that clear. “Don’t forget to talk to us beforehand,” the Chancellor growled at her party friend in an EU video conference.

Von der Leyen is considered determined and bold. Tedious coordination processes within her commission and still doing an extra loop with all EU members is not her thing. When Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine, she quickly engaged in talks with the US government on common sanctions against Russia – without waiting for a detailed debate by the member states.

What repeatedly arouses suspicion in Brussels has brought Ursula von der Leyen respect in Washington. She is seen here as a leader who is on an equal footing with the US President – simply because she gets things sorted out. This sets her apart from her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, who always took everyone’s sensitivities into consideration before announcing decisions. “Fuck the EU” – the now famous quote from US foreign policy expert Victoria Nuland from 2014 also had to do with the EU’s inertia and inability to make decisions.

Leaders at eye level: Joe Biden and Ursula von der Leyen.
Leaders at eye level: Joe Biden and Ursula von der Leyen. (Quelle: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)

Von der Leyen needs success

However, the more von der Leyen appears and leads with her personal commitment, the greater the pressure of success weighs on her. If it fails, Europe fails. Expectations are therefore deliberately lowered before you visit Biden.

Commission circles say that Washington would like to see a kind of starting signal for future better coordination between the US government and the EU Commission. In truth, one hopes for very concrete economic concessions – but does not dare to say so publicly in advance.

This US law strains relations

In addition to talks about Russia and China, the background to the trip is one of the biggest annoyances for the EU countries, the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA for short. This is a law that the Biden government has already passed, which is intended to catapult the USA into a green age with hydrogen economy, electric cars, wind and solar power with gigantic state subsidies.


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