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EU’s Breton says issues in transatlantic ties ‘much broader’ than submarine row

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WASHINGTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) – Strains in transatlantic ties have been building for years and cannot be reduced to just frustration over Australia scrapping a $40 billion submarine deal with France, the European Commission’s industry commissioner Thierry Breton said on Tuesday.

Breton said many politicians and citizens in Europe shared a “growing feeling … that something is broken in our transatlantic relations” after a series of surprises from the Biden administration in recent months.

“This feeling is unfortunately increasing,” he told reporters in Washington. “It’s not right to think it is just because of what happened last week. It’s much broader than that.”

Breton said European Union leaders would decide, possibly this week, whether to proceed with the inaugural meeting of a new U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council https://www.reuters.com/business/us-eu-officials-kick-off-new-trade-tech-council-sept-29-white-house-2021-09-09 in Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, a gathering that was trumpeted as a major advance in the transatlantic alliance.

Germany joined France on Tuesday https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/france-weighs-australia-options-urges-britain-restore-trust-2021-09-21 in berating the United States for negotiating a security pact in secret with Australia and Britain that cost Paris the lucrative submarine deal.

EU ambassadors have postponed preparations for the Pittsburgh meeting, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Washington’s actions were not acceptable.

Breton, underscoring the importance of rebuilding trust, said he would proceed with talks with top U.S. officials, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, during his visit to the United States. Issues to be discussed include the COVID-19 response and joint efforts to boost semiconductor production.

He welcomed Washington’s decision to ease travel restrictions on fully vaccinated people, but noted that he learned about it exactly half an hour before meeting with Jeff Zients, who leads the White House’s COVID-19 response team.

Breton also cautioned against reading too much into any possible postponement of the U.S.-EU meeting, saying next week’s event was not expected to produce significant results.

He said Europe’s frustrations had been fueled by the Biden administration’s failure to communicate about the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, its long continuation of Trump-era travel restrictions, and last week’s deal with Britain and Australia.

But the roots went deeper, dating back to U.S. wiretaps on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and four years of the Trump administration’s Europe bashing, he said.

“It is one event after another,” he said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal Editing by Paul Simao)

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