President Joe Biden and European Union leaders delivered a message of unity Friday (20 October) on the Israel-Hamas and Ukraine wars, despite worries that political paralysis in Washington could hamper US aid for its allies.
“These conflicts show democracies must stand together,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told reporters as she and European Council chief Charles Michel met Biden at the White House.
The EU-US summit takes place against a backdrop of global crises, as Ukraine battles Russian forces while Israel gears up for an invasion of Gaza after the 7 October surprise attack by Hamas.
The American and European leaders were keen to present a united front, seeking to strengthen their “strategic partnership.”
Biden — who on Thursday drew a direct link between the two conflicts as he urged Americans to back a $106 billion aid package including military assistance for Ukraine and Israel — said the EU and US “stood together.”
“We stood together to support the brave people of Ukraine in the face of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s aggression,” Biden said. “We’re standing together now to support Israel in the wake of Hamas’s appalling terrorist attack.”
Michel said the EU and US were “forging a united front.”
“Today, the world faces enormous challenges. And today, more than ever, the world needs a strong EU-US alliance to tackle these challenges,” added the Belgian.
Said von der Leyen: “The events in the Middle East will not distract us from our rock-solid support to Ukraine.”
EU leaders were looking for reassurance of continued US support for Ukraine, which is fighting to repel the Russian invasion launched in February 2022.
The United States is by far the biggest supplier of military aid to Ukraine.
The joint statement released at the conclusion of the summit noted the two sides were “concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
“It is crucial to prevent regional escalation,” such as a new front with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, they said.
Biden, who has just returned from a visit to Tel Aviv, addressed Americans on Thursday evening in a bid to convince voters and Republicans to back the giant aid package for Israel and Ukraine.
But the US Congress has now been paralyzed for more than two weeks as divided Republicans, who hold the majority in the House of Representatives, failed for a third time to elect a new House speaker.
Congress also faces a 17 November deadline to act on the budget, so as to avoid a possible government shutdown.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Michel said he was “extremely confident” the US president would do all he could to secure Ukraine aid.
The last EU-US summit took place in Brussels in June 2021.
Geopolitics is not the only issue at stake, with trade tensions simmering.
The EU and the United States had hoped to settle trade disputes including on European steel imports, which were targeted by tariffs imposed in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump.
While they were suspended in 2021 under Biden, they could be reactivated if no agreement is reached by year’s end.
“We look forward to continuing to make progress on these important objectives in the next two months,” the final statement said.
There was also no agreement on critical minerals — under Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), companies must source a certain percentage of critical minerals for electric car batteries from the United States or its free trade partners to be eligible for incentives.
Europe has expressed concerns over the IRA, fearing its subsidies for clean energy tech will enable US firms to out-compete European rivals.
Read more with EURACTIV