EU calls on Biden to take global leadership on COVID-19

Robin Emmott and John Chalmers
·3-min read
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks during a televised speech on the current economic and health crises at The Queen Theatre in Wilmington

By Robin Emmott and John Chalmers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The world needs American leadership in the battle against COVID-19, the EU's top diplomat said, urging President-elect Joe Biden to step up after the Trump administration was widely criticised for its slow response to the pandemic.

With rich countries contracting far more doses of various coronavirus vaccines than poorer ones, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it was up to the United States to retake its place as "an engine of the world" and help.

"The world will face this year one of the biggest challenges to vaccinating humankind. This will require a lot of solidarity, a lot of cooperation and quite a lot of resources," Borrell told Reuters in an interview.

"This is the first global crisis in which the American leadership has been missing and the world needs American leadership," Borrell said, pledging EU support to Washington.

In a pandemic that has killed almost 400,000 Americans and threatened the U.S. economy, President Donald Trump's handling of the virus has been criticised at home, weakening any broad international response.

Borrell also proposed rebuilding transatlantic ties after the Trump era, describing his 'America First' approach as governing by Twitter.

"Only with two things, the U.S. coming back to the climate agreement and rejoining the nuclear deal with Iran, the world will much better and more secure," he said on Trump's last full day as president.

"After governing by tweeting, maybe we can go to governing using another way of communication, defining positions and taking into the account the problems and interests of others," Borrell said from his office in the European Commision.

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Trump filed to withdraw the United States, the top historic greenhouse gas emitter and leading oil and gas producer, from the Paris Agreement in November 2019. Under President Barack Obama, the United States had promised a 26-28% cut in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels.

Borrell also said Washington would save time by rejoining the Iran nuclear deal that Trump quit in 2018, rather than seeking to negotiate a new arms control accord.

Asked what first steps the Biden administration could take, Borrell said: "Stop threatening sanctions against everybody who is part of the economic relationship with Iran."

EU governments, which hailed the agreement in 2015 as critical to stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb, say Trump's broad economic sanctions on Iran have provoked Tehran into breaking the deal's restrictions.

Borrell, a Spaniard and a veteran of European politics at 73, said he would invite Biden's nominee for Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, to an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on March 4-5 in Lisbon to restart cooperation after four years in which the Trump administration sought to sideline the 27-nation bloc.

Borrell listed other issues where Washington and Brussels could bring change, including in shaping digital regulation, as well as on China.

He defended the EU's decision to agree an investment pact with Beijing in late December, before Biden took office, saying it should not be seen as a diplomatic victory from China.

"We are not in a permanent rivalry (with China). We are at the same time partners, we have to share, to work together," he said.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)