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US president Joe Biden is in Brussels today for his first Nato summit since taking office. That will be followed by a quick EU-US summit tomorrow, ahead of which officials have been engaged in intensive talks aimed at easing transatlantic trade tensions.

While Nato is uttering a collective sigh of relief after former president Donald Trump’s bruising treatment, the issue of allies’ defence spending remains a preoccupation for the US, as does the strategic impact of China’s rise. We will look at the headline topics of the gathering at alliance headquarters.

Over the weekend, Biden took part in the G7 summit in Cornwall, where leaders pledged to donate more vaccines to low-income countries and closed ranks on Russia and China. We will explore what leaders failed to agree and where their pledges fell short of expectations.

We will also hear from Rome, where rightwing leader Matteo Salvini is plotting another comeback, this time with the help of veteran Silvio Berlusconi.

President Joe Biden’s mere presence at his first Nato summit today will be a profound relief to the transatlantic military alliance battered by the Trump years — but US pressure on some main themes remains the same, writes Michael Peel in Brussels.

The new administration in Washington is continuing a push within Nato for greater European military spending and a bigger focus on potential strategic threats posed by China.

The leaders’ gathering in Brussels takes place against a broader backdrop of questions over the future of the 30-member cold war-era grouping, as it prepares to pull out of Afghanistan after almost two decades.

A main goal for the meeting at the alliance’s modern headquarters, with its design based on the concept of interlocking fingers, is to bridge divisions by signing up to a common vision of “Nato 2030”.

That means a shift away from “expeditionary” deployments such as Afghanistan, more co-operation with democratic powers in other regions, and sharper attention on Russian and Chinese activities in the Euro- Atlantic area. (Read our full take on it here) Nato also wants to strengthen its capabilities in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The heads of state and government are also expected to sign a commitment to cut carbon emissions in line with targets agreed by national governments in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Biden will undoubtedly strike a friendlier tone towards Nato than his predecessor, who lambasted European allies and branded the 72-year-old alliance “obsolete” when he was on the presidential campaign trail.

But successive US administrations have pressed the European countries that make up the bulk of Nato’s members to raise spending on their militaries.

Just one-third of the alliance’s countries will this year reach a 2014 target to spend the equivalent of 2 per cent of their gross domestic products on defence by 2024, according to estimates published by Nato on Friday.

Laggards include the alliance’s host country Belgium on 1.12 per cent, Spain on 1.02 per cent, and the EU’s most populous nation, Germany, on 1.53 per cent.

Bar chart of Nato allies in 2014 committed to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence showing Defence spending as share of GDP

Armin Laschet, the candidate chosen by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union to succeed her in national elections in September, said he was in favour of Germany meeting the 2 per cent threshold.

“When you sign up to something at an international level, you should also stick to it,” he told Bild am Sonntag yesterday.

There have also been disagreements among allies about whether to fund more Nato activities from a common pot, rather than via individual countries’ spending.

The brevity of Nato’s scheduled 2.5-hour summit will limit opportunities for deep internal debates — but these will surely intensify as the alliance attempts to reinvent itself.

Leaders from the G7 rich countries concluded a summit in Cornwall at the weekend proclaiming the return of “values-driven” multilateralism and signing off on some impressive-sounding numbers on vaccines and climate change finance, writes Mehreen Khan in Brussels.

On vaccines, the G7 communiqué pledged to donate 1bn Covid-19 jabs over the next year to poorer countries and to speed up development of new vaccines in response to the threat of variants. But as Gideon Rachman points out, the 1bn falls far short of the 11bn jabs that the World Health Organization has said are needed to fight the virus.

Despite calls from India, which joined as an observer at the summit, the G7 also refrained from supporting a waiver on vaccine intellectual property rights that New Delhi and allies including South Africa have called for.

On climate change, poorer countries not present in Cornwall have been left disappointed with the summit’s repetition of a financial pledge of a $100bn annual climate budget for the developing world. The $100bn figure has gained totemic status since it was promised over a decade ago, but it has not been met by richer countries. The likes of Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh decried the G7’s inability to raise the target this weekend.

One number missing from the communiqué was a hard deadline for the phasing out of coal. Leaders pledged to end coal finance by 2022 but failed to agree an end date due to internal disputes.

Line chart of Price indices rebased in US dollar terms showing Construction materials prices soar

Europe’s construction industry executives have warned that price hikes and materials shortages risk undermining the EU’s flagship €800bn post-pandemic recovery plan. The bloc’s construction sector generates almost 10 per cent of its economic output and vast infrastructure projects make up a sizeable proportion of Brussels’ recovery fund. (Find out more)

The surprise appointment of Mario Draghi as Italy’s prime minister this year upended the country’s politics like an asteroid from space, forcing parties to radically reconsider alliances and strategies, writes Miles Johnson in Rome.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-migration League party, has arguably been the man forced to do the most thinking since the former president of the European Central Bank arrived in Rome’s Palazzo Chigi in February.

Salvini, once an avowed Eurosceptic who toured Italy wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “No More Euro”, surprised some by deciding to back the Draghi unity government, leaving his rightwing frenemy Giorgia Meloni, head of the Brothers of Italy (FdI) party, sitting out in opposition. (We profiled Meloni here)

While this gambit brought the League back into government, the party has also lost supporters to Meloni, who is neck-and-neck with Salvini in national opinion polls. Now, Salvini is plotting an audacious plan to possibly merge the League with what remains of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

A combined party would allow Salvini to bulk up in scale and instantly regain pole position over Meloni. It could also resolve questions over the future of Forza Italia, which is polling a distant third behind the League and FdI, once 84-year-old four-time prime minister Berlusconi is no longer around.

The former Italian leader and media owner has been in and out of hospital in the past few months after being diagnosed with Covid-19 in September.Not everyone inside Forza Italia, which sits much closer to the centre than Salvini, is overjoyed by the prospect of a merger. Italian media has reported some of Berlusconi’s lawmakers fear they will be swallowed up inside a combined entity.

For Salvini, however, the appeal is clear.

If he were to emerge as leader of a combined League and FI, he would not only have greater leverage over Meloni when deciding a future rightwing coalition government, but also would be able to more credibly claim he has jettisoned the radical anti-euro politics of his past that still make him unelectable for many Italian centrists.

With Italy’s rightwing parties still in the lead in opinion polls, the success of Salvini’s overtures to Berlusconi may end up playing a big role in deciding who succeeds Draghi as prime minister by the time the country’s next general elections are held, in 2023 at the latest.

. . . and later this week