The clouds have lifted, the sun is out, the storm is over. Biden has been elected President. This was the prevalent feeling in the EU after the election in November of last year. As the dust of the election and the initial euphoria that President Trump had been voted out of office has settled, it is now down to business. The Biden administration brings a new set of opportunities, and challenges for the future of transatlantic relations.
It is obvious that much of what has divided the EU and the US over the past years will not just disappear overnight with a new administration. The disagreements, like the Airbus/Boeing dispute, did not arise with the Trump administration. We could not bring the transatlantic trade negotiations (TTIP) to a successful conclusion during the Obama administration. There are deeper systemic issues that we are not in agreement on. And this is what makes this period a crucial one, where we – the EU and the US – find ourselves at the nexus of a new era. The era of Asian power.
In this changing setting, the EU Commission proposed a ‘new EU-US agenda for global change’, the objective of which is to address global challenges together to ensure that our understanding of a liberal and democratic global order remains the prevalent leitmotif for multilateral engagement in a world with China as a new superpower.
The circumstances are indeed difficult. President Trump has not disappeared with his electoral defeat. The Republican party still hums his tune, and there is a real worry that the Biden administration is an interlude to another four years of Trump, either because of a second Trump presidency, or through a presidency of a Republican candidate in his mould. We therefore need to move forward with our initiatives at pace if we want to future proof multilateralism, and the rule of law, among many other things.
What must be at the forefront of our joint efforts? The overarching issues that now require our immediate attention are tackling climate change, addressing the opportunities and challenges of new technologies, and sustainable economic development. These are not small matters. Tackling climate issues is the most obvious challenge of our day. I would argue that the technological battle, although perhaps no less obvious, is crucial with regard to its geopolitical impact. Our economies are highly digitalised, and they will become ever more so. In order to remain competitive, to set future technological standards, and to ensure the safety our critical infrastructure, we must develop joint approaches and work closely together.
This would build on what President Biden called for during the Munich Security Conference, namely to shape the rules that will govern the advance of technology, and on the EU’s proposal of a joint EU-US tech agenda as part of the new agenda for global change. The Commission is already moving forward with legislative proposals, for example on harmonised rules on artificial intelligence via an Artificial Intelligence Act. There will be differences of views – on data governance, and that high-risk AI systems should meet certain requirements before they can be used, but also the regulation of data flows more generally, and finding common approaches to cybersecurity will need addressing. A common EU-US Trade and Technology Council, as proposed by the EU, can be of help in finding common ground.
There are other challenges within the transatlantic economic relationship that need resolution as well. As mentioned, we could not bridge various trade-related differences during our negotiations on TTIP, which is why they ultimately failed. What TTIP sought to address still needs to be resolved. Public procurement is one of these issues. We must open our procurement markets to each other if we want to make our economies more competitive. American initiatives by the former and current US administrations, therefore, are counterproductive. President Biden must clearly focus the lion’s share of his economic efforts on programmes at home – especially given the threat of losing the House and Senate in the next mid-term elections in 2022. As such, he must offer something to the home crowd. But we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. The following sentence in the EU’s agenda highlights where we must be headed on the economic front: “[w]e should facilitate our bilateral trade and deepen our regulatory and standards cooperation”. Doing anything else will mean that we cede the field to China, and become rule takers, instead of rule makers. It is evident that it is time for bold action. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves the question: Who do we, as the EU, want by our side in this new dawn? With the US can we work towards a future with freedom, democracy, and prosperity.