U.S.-France Dispute Divides Europe – The New York Times

A top European Union official made a plea on Tuesday to “pause and reset” the relationship between the bloc and the United States as a diplomatic spat between France and the Biden administration has become a European issue.

“There is a growing feeling in Europe — and I say this with regret — that something is broken in our trans-Atlantic relations,” Thierry Breton, the E.U. trade commissioner, said at a virtual event organized by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based research organization, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“Trust is not a given,” Mr. Breton said. “And after the latest events, there is a strong perception that trust between the E.U. and U.S. has been eroded.”

Mr. Breton was the latest official from the bloc to question the Biden administration’s commitment to a strong alliance with the European Union. Tensions have escalated in recent days after Australia scrapped a $66 billion agreement to buy French-built submarines in favor of U.S.-manufactured, nuclear-powered ones.

France has reacted with anger to the security deal among the United States, Britain and Australia, and recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia last week.

The submarine deal came after a chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan about which European leaders said they had not been consulted. Many officials who had welcomed the election of President Biden — and his pledge that “America is back” — are now expressing concerns.

While the Biden administration has tried to play down the spat, European officials have sharpened their tone, although they’ve stopped short of concrete action.

“What does it mean, ‘America is back’?” Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, which represents the leaders of the bloc’s 27 members, told reporters in New York on Monday. “Is America back in America or somewhere else? We don’t know.”

The words of Mr. Breton and Mr. Michel have echoed the position of Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, who on Monday told CNN that she would seek to “know what happened and why” before the bloc could “keep on going with business as usual” with the United States.

But despite such rhetoric from France and E.U. officials, there is concern in some European capitals that the dispute could hurt the bloc’s wider interests. Though European countries have showed solidarity to France in public, in private some officials have called the clash a bilateral matter between France and the United States.

A European diplomat said that President Emmanuel Macron of France had often taken a leading role in promoting more “strategic autonomy” for Europe, only to realize that not many E.U. members were following.

And a lawmaker at the European Parliament took a nuanced view. “Of course we cannot act as if nothing had happened,” Reinhard Bütikofer, the lawmaker, said on Monday. “But how the E.U. will react is not decided unilaterally by Paris.”

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