The European Union leaders gathered at today’s summit in Brussels were hoping to devise a response to protectionist subsidies included in the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA. Instead, they found themselves occupied with a surprise guest: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The summit was originally scheduled for just one day, but as of Thursday night it looked set to be extended through Friday due to today’s full schedule of meetings between EU leaders and the Ukrainian president.
The topic that was meant to be under discussion—responding to the IRA—is becoming increasingly important, and concerning, in trans-Atlantic relations. Europeans originally cheered the U.S. for adopting its first-ever piece of comprehensive climate legislation, but their tone changed after they read the fine print. EU countries are furious with the Biden administration for ignoring their concerns over subsidies in the IRA. They say the legislation gives U.S. companies an unfair competitive advantage over EU-based ones, and that the IRA is meant to lure European companies across the Atlantic to cash in on the government largesse.
But there is deep division among the 27 EU leaders over how hard to hit back against the sanctions, and how much support European businesses need to allow them to compete. France, which is particularly upset with the legislation, and Germany are pushing the European Commission to relax state aid rules so they can more easily dole out cash to their national companies. But smaller, poorer countries say this will distort the EU single market’s level playing field because they cannot afford to do the same.