Analysis & Opinions - Politico

After the Honeymoon, How to Make the EU-US Relationship Work

| Oct. 06, 2021

There are many areas beyond defense where both sides have plenty to contribute.

WASHINGTON, DC — We’ve sunk into yet another period of transatlantic blues.

From Afghanistan to the AUKUS alliance, the brief honeymoon between the European Union and U.S. President Joe Biden’s America looks to be over. But it’s important to remember, after the overinflated optimism that followed the end of the Trump years, that transatlantic relations have always had their frictions and frustrations, their ups and their downs — and we’re ready for a rebound once again.

Indeed, the launch of the EU-U.S. Trade and Tech Council (TTC) in Pittsburgh last week points the way to the relationship’s revival, and to the true center of 21st century transatlantic relations. The fourth industrial revolution, public health, economic recovery, the green energy transition — this is where European change is actually taking place, and it is where the greatest potential for cooperation with the U.S. lies.

For all the talk of diplomacy and alliances on full display in Biden’s U.N. General Assembly address, the U.S. will act — as it always has — in its national interest. And while U.S. interests do align with the EU on European security, its need to strategically reorient toward China and to invest more in deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region will also mean a continued gradual disengagement from Europe’s surrounding regions.

The only reasonable conclusion for the EU to draw is to step up to its own responsibilities in its neighborhood. Both Afghanistan and AUKUS have reignited the debate about European defense and strategic autonomy — but unfortunately, hardly anything is happening.

Europeans continue to talk about security and defense and, in fairness, are gradually investing more in their capabilities. But when it comes to action, with the exception of France’s operation in the Sahel, there is not much to see.

A strong transatlantic partnership should eventually include a more balanced security and defense relationship — one with greater European responsibility, as well as greater respect from the U.S. Perhaps one day it will. But that day is not today.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t much the two sides can do together. Areas like the economy, technology, climate and energy transition offer far more promising avenues for meaningful cooperation. In these realms, the pandemic offered the EU the opportunity for action — and Europe seized it. The EU is navigating out of this coronavirus crisis as one, with its ability to deliver for its citizens on full display.

The TTC is the most immediate example for the potential for this type of transatlantic coordination. The inaugural meeting’s concern with the market behavior of China also reflects a fundamental truth: The world is settling into a new bipolar structure, largely revolving around the U.S. and China.

This does not mean that other powers — including the EU — are irrelevant. But it does imply that they will be drawn to either one pole or the other, largely depending on the nature of their political systems. Unlike the Cold War, however, the current competition features deep interdependence and primarily plays out in the economic and technological spheres.

This places Europe in a distinctly different position than before: Whereas in the 20th century, Europe mattered to the U.S. because it was on the proverbial menu, today the EU matters because it has a seat at the table.

The economic, technological and energy transitions will be the beating heart of 21st century transatlantic partnership. In contrast to defense, these are areas where Europe has taken responsibility — and earned respect.

This is not to say that differences don’t exist in these areas as well. While progress has been made — on decarbonization targets, pledges for climate finance and the launch of the global methane alliance, for instance — there are still deep waters separating the EU and the U.S., most notably on issues like carbon pricing. If the two sides can’t manage to make common ground, some of these risk turning into consequential transatlantic gaps, both strategically when it comes to China and for the future of our planet.

Honeymoons come and go, but now that real life has kicked in, it’s time to make the relationship work — especially in these areas of transition that are so existential to both.

 

  – Via the original publication source.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Tocci, Nathalie.“After the Honeymoon, How to Make the EU-US Relationship Work.” Politico, October 6, 2021.