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With G7 summit the first stop, Biden embarks on 8-day trip to Europe

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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the May jobs report after U.S. employers boosted hiring amid the easing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, U.S., June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

US President Joe Biden departed for Britain on Wednesday (9 June) on his first trip abroad since taking office, an eight-day mission to rebuild trans-Atlantic ties strained during the Trump era and to reframe relations with Russia.

The trip represents a test of the Democratic president's ability to manage and repair relationships with major allies who grew disenchanted with then-President Donald Trump's trade tariffs and withdrawal from international treaties.

"Will the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped so much of the last century prove their capacity against modern-day threats and adversaries? I believe the answer is yes. And this week in Europe, we have the chance to prove it," Biden said in an opinion article published in the Washington Post.

His summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 16 June in Geneva is the capstone to the trip, an opportunity to raise U.S. concerns directly with Putin about ransomware attacks emanating from Russia, Moscow's aggression against Ukraine and a host of other issues.

Biden will make his first stop at the seaside village of St. Ives in Cornwall where he will participate in the G7 summit. The meeting is expected to be dominated by vaccine diplomacy, trade, climate and an initiative for rebuilding infrastructure in the developing world. U.S. officials see that effort as a way to counter China's growing influence.

Biden may face pressure to do more to share US vaccine supplies with other countries after an initial pledge of 20 million doses announced last week.

His push for a global minimum tax on multinational corporations faces opposition at home. G7 finance ministers agreed before the summit to pursue a global minimum tax rate of at least 15% and to allow market countries to tax up to 20% of the excess profits - above a 10% margin - generated by about 100 large, high-profit companies.

Republicans came out against the plan this week, potentially complicating the U.S. ability to implement a broader global agreement.

Biden will have a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday in Cornwall, a chance to renew the U.S.-British "special relationship" after Britain's Brexit break from the European Union.

After three days of G7 summitry, Biden and his wife Jill will visit Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle. The 78-year-old Biden met the queen back in 1982 when he was a US senator from Delaware.

Afterwards Biden travels to Brussels for talks with leaders of NATO and the European Union. The agenda is expected to be dominated by Russia, China and the perennial issue of getting NATO allies to contribute more to the common defense.

Biden closes out the trip in Geneva for what could prove to be the most difficult meeting of the week - a session with Putin, who had enjoyed friendly relations with Trump.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that Biden hoped his G7 and NATO meetings will bolster a sense of allied unity as he goes into his session with Putin.

No major breakthroughs are expected from the summit. Sullivan said Biden would press Putin on US priorities. The two sides were negotiating whether to hold a joint news conference.

Brexit

Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.

The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' summit.

"I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union," she said.

Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.

Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.

The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045

Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.

“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said

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Brexit

'Whatever it takes', UK's Johnson warns EU over post-Brexit trade

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Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (12 June), threatening emergency measures if no solution was found, write Elizabeth Piper and Michel Rose.

The threat by Johnson seemed to break a temporary truce in a war of words over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, the focus for tensions since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year.

Despite US President Joe Biden encouraging them to find a compromise, Johnson used a G7 summit to indicate no softening in his position on what is called the Northern Ireland protocol that covers border issues with the British province.

"I think we can sort it out but ... it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes," Johnson told Sky News.

"I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16," he added, referring to a safeguard clause that allows either side to take measures if they believe the agreement is leading to economic, societal or environment difficulties.

"I've talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads."

His comments came after he met French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a Group of Seven summit in southwestern England.

The EU told the British government once again that it must implement the Brexit deal in full and introduce checks on certain goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. Britain repeated its call for urgent and innovative solutions to ease the friction.

The province has an open border with EU member Ireland so the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed as a way to preserve the bloc's single market after Britain left.

The protocol essentially kept the province in the EU’s customs union and adhering to many of the single market rules, creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between the British province and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Anti-Brexit protesters holding a banner and flags demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel remove their protective face masks as they meet during the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool

Since Britain exited the bloc's orbit, Johnson has unilaterally delayed the implementation of some provisions of the protocol, including checks on chilled meats such as sausages moving from the mainland to Northern Ireland, saying it was causing disruption to some supplies to the province.

"Both sides must implement what we agreed on," von der Leyen, European Commission president, said after meeting Johnson alongside Michel, the European Council president.

"There is complete EU unity on this," she said, adding that the deal had been agreed, signed and ratified by both Johnson's government and the bloc.

Germany's Merkel said the two sides could find pragmatic solutions on technical questions, while the EU protected its single market.

Earlier this week, talks between the two sets of negotiators ended in an exchange of threats over the so-called "sausage wars". An EU official said at the G7 that there was a need for the rhetoric to be toned down.

The head of the World Trade Organization said she hoped the tensions would not escalate into a trade war.

The United States has also expressed grave concern the dispute could undermine the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

That agreement largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Though Brexit was not part of the formal agenda for the G7 summit in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay, it has more than once threatened to cloud the meeting.

France's Macron offered to reset relations with Britain as long as Johnson stood by the Brexit deal - a characterisation of the meeting that was rejected by the British team. Read more.

Brexit has also strained the situation in Northern Ireland, where the pro-British "unionist" community say they are now split off from the rest of the United Kingdom and the Brexit deal breaches the 1998 peace deal. But the open border between the province and Ireland was a key principle of the Good Friday deal.

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EU

Keeping the UEFA EURO 2020 championship safe

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Between 10 June and 12 July 2021, Europol will host an operational centre to support safety and security during the UEFA EURO 2020 football championship. Coordinated by the Dutch Police, the International Police Cooperation Centre (IPCC) of the National Football Contact Points will host about 40 liaison officers from 22 participating and hosting countries. This special operational set-up is created to enable swift cooperation and provide the necessary operational support for a safe and secure championship.

The IPCC will serve as a central information hub for national law enforcement authorities. To that end, Europol has created a special Task Force EURO 2020 to enable keeping officers on the ground 24/7 to easily exchange information and swiftly receive leads on ongoing investigations. The operational activities will focus on public safety and criminal threats, which may threaten security during the tournament. Enforcement authorities will target threats such as cybercrime, terrorism, match-fixing, trafficking counterfeit goods including fake COVID-19 certificates, and other intellectual property crimes.

Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, said: ‘The UEFA EURO 2020 championship is a unique tournament both for football and for law enforcement. With 24 national teams playing in 11 cities across Europe, teaming up is paramount for the safety of the tournament. Europol will enable this cooperation by hosting the dedicated operational centre. Backed by Europol’s capabilities, officers on the ground will be better prepared to ensure a smooth and safe championship.’

The IPCC’s chief of staff, Max Daniel, said: ‘Combining information about public order issues, supporters, places of stay and travel movements by road, air and rail results in an up-to-date and integrated picture. Being able to easily share that information between countries has proven to be very valuable in the past. Police intelligence officers of all participating countries are doing their utmost to ensure that this unique UEFA EURO 2020 championship will be as safe as possible.’

IPCC UEFA EURO 2020 Participants (total number):

EU Member States: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands. 

Non-EU Countries: Azerbaijan, North Macedonia, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom.

Organisations: INTERPOL and UEFA

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