Between April 1 and June 30, 2021, President Biden spoke on the phone with Turkish President Erdoğan once (April 23), German Chancellor Merkel once (April 14), and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy twice (April 2 and June 7). President Biden’s call with President Zelenskyy on April 2 is noteworthy for coming immediately on the heels of calls between the Ukrainian president and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
We track President Biden’s phone calls with the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, whether they had spoken or not, as well as other calls with European leaders of which we were aware. If we missed a conversation, please give us a ring. Sources: the White House.
New COVID-19 variants and low global vaccination rates significantly risk the world’s reopening. First detected in December 2020, the B.1.617.2 – or delta – variant has rapidly increased across the world. 40-60% more transmissible than original COVID-19 strains, by the middle of April 2021, more than 50% of new COVID-19 cases in India were identified as the delta variant. Less than a month later, the delta variant became the majority strain in circulation in the United Kingdom, as well. By the end of the second quarter of 2021, the Delta variant made up almost all cases in Israel (98%), Russia (95%), and Australia (84%).
High vaccination rates may only blunt the spread of the delta variant – underscoring U.S. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s remark that the United States faces a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In Israel, for example, where more than 50% of the population has been fully vaccinated since March 2021, the delta variant quickly became the majority strain in circulation beginning in May 2021. The United Kingdom, another winner of the vaccine race, more than 48% of whose population was fully vaccinated on June 28, saw 98% of its COVID cases come from the delta variant.
In the United States, from April to June, the percentage of people fully vaccinated almost tripled, rising from about 17% on April 1 to 46% on June 30. However, with thousands of doses available to be administered in the United States, the number of doses administered per day has been steadily decreasing since April 2021.
In Europe, despite authorization and distribution issues throughout the first quarter and at the beginning of April, EU members states have quickly increased vaccination rates and are catching up to the United States, with Germany, France, and Italy increasing the percent of fully vaccinated people by 7-fold (5% on April 1 to 37% on June 30), 7.5-fold (4% on April 1 to 31% on June 30), and 5-fold (6% on April 1 to 31% on June 30), respectively.
Throughout the West, vaccine hesitancy – for example, only half of the French population said they would get the vaccine or already have and up to one fourth of Americans would decline the vaccine, even when offered – continues to threaten an already fragile reopening. In July 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron has taken a step to address vaccine hesitancy and to prevent a fourth wave by announcing that people would have to show vaccine certificates to enter many public spaces, including trains, planes, restaurants, and cafes. Yet, such a move appears currently unthinkable in the United States where the Biden administration reportedly fears the political backlash that could result from the use of vaccine passports.
Ultimately, although high-income countries – such as those in the G7 – have reached a higher percent of fully vaccinated people than low- and middle-income countries – such as those in the G20 – the inability to convince people at home to get vaccinated raises questions about the return to normalcy. Countries that have even lower stocks of vaccines, like those in Africa where countries had vaccinated less than 5% of their population as of June 2021, are uniquely at risk from this new variant.
Nb. Because of limitations in the data available from Our World in Data, the averages presented for the G7 and G20 are best approximations. In the graph showing percentages of cases that are the delta variant, no data was available for China, the European Union, or Saudi Arabia, and Canadian and Argentinian data was only available through May 2021, all of which affect the G20 value and, in Canada’s case, the G7 value. In the graph showing vaccination rates, no data was available for Australia, China, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa, which affects the G20 value.
Center on the United States and Europe Director Thomas Wright lays out events, issues, and potential developments to watch for in the months ahead.
I am delighted to share with you the twelfth edition of the Trans-Atlantic Scorecard, a quarterly evaluation of U.S.-European relations produced by Brookings’s Center on the United States and Europe, as part of the Brookings – Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative.
This is the second scorecard of the Biden administration and covers an eventful quarter. Putin dashed hopes of a stable and predictable U.S.-Russia relationship with a large buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border and tolerance of waves of ransomware attacks by suspected criminal entities in Russia. Multiple leader-level summits in June underscored President Biden’s commitment to restoring diplomatic relations with Europe and to enhancing the competitiveness of democracies. From the agreement reached on a global minimum tax at the G7 to an increased focus on protecting democracy from “state and non-state actors” across the globe, increased U.S. outreach has fostered a new, more ambitious tone in transatlantic relations. Whether this rhetoric is translated into action will be a chief focus of the following months and years.
A few points from this iteration of the survey are worth highlighting.
Following the summits, our survey pool saw ratings for all functional and bilateral relations increase, even in the case of relations with Russia and Turkey which improved only slightly. 100% of our survey pool viewed political relations between the United States and Europe as trending positive. Majorities viewed security and economic relations as improving (64% and 57%, respectively), though a significant minority – nearly 36% in each case – viewed them as trending neutral. Bilateral relations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom all improved to nearly 7 on a 1-10 scale over the last quarter. Though both remain weak, bilateral relations with Russia and Turkey also improved on the last quarter, with U.S.-Russia relations improving by a full point on the heels of President Biden’s face-to-face summit with President Putin in Geneva.
On the topical questions, our survey pool split over what sort of relationship with Russia might be realistic for the European Union and the United States: 50% disagreed with the sentiment that achieving stability and predictability was realistic, while roughly 21% thought this goal was achievable and nearly 29% were neutral. Nearly 47% thought that fears of a return of Trumpism to the White House in 2024 would not prevent European governments from investing in trans-Atlantic initiatives, compared to 20% who thought they would and 33% who were undecided. Two thirds of our survey pool thought it was too soon to tell whether the Biden administration had succeeded in bringing Europe onboard with its China policy.
As we look ahead to late summer and fall, federal elections in Germany loom large: after nearly 16 years under Chancellor Merkel’s leadership, Germany will elect a new chancellor. Following the recent spate of ransomware attacks from Russia and the U.S., EU, U.K. and NATO condemnation of China for “irresponsible and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace,” we will be watching to see how the trans-Atlantic alliance works to improve cyber defense and set rules of the road in cyberspace. We will also be watching to see how Europe copes with the delta wave of COVID-19 and if the alliance can forge a common position on climate change in advance of November’s COP-26 summit in Glasgow.
Thank you again for reading the Trans-Atlantic Scorecard.