The US-EU relationship has been damaged during the Donald Trump administration. The Transatlantic alliance can only be rebuilt if it is redefined. Trust has been broken on several US commitments and Europe will no longer accept being treated as obsolete.
The Geopolitical Scene
Whether intentional or not, the geopolitical scene is different since Trump, yet increasingly confrontational.
Russia and China present a united front to the West — but there’s plenty of potential for friction. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, met last March and signed a declaration, which pledged to reject the politicization of human rights and interference in their countries’ internal affairs — clearly aimed at the West.
On the other side of this unholy alliance, both the United States and the European Union need to face a new reality: they cannot succeed without a strong partnership. Indeed, like the EU-US agenda for Global Change (December 2020) states: “Our joint commitment is essential in a world where authoritarian powers seek to subvert democracies, aggressive actors try to destabilize regions and institutions, and closed economies exploit the openness our own societies depend on.”
At the core of this ambition are strong values. In the words of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission: “the transatlantic alliance is based on shared values and history, but also interests: building a stronger, more peaceful and more prosperous world.”
Recognizing our Differences
Even though there is a new and positive political momentum, embedded in shared values, redefining the US-EU alliance might be different for each party.
At the center of this difference in vision lies the question of the United States’ constitutional resilience. The Trump Presidency has evidenced the power of the White House to withdraw from treaties and commitments related to open skies surveillance, nuclear arms control (including Iran), global warming, UN human rights, NAFTA, among many others. In the middle of a global pandemic, dropping the US commitment to the World Health Organization was a tricky bet. This raises significant doubts about the trustworthiness of the signature of a US President.
If Europe is forced to question the US’ commitments every four years, diplomacy and leadership alone will never be enough.
The NATO alliance is critical but it also needs to be redefined. The NATO 2030 Plan will aim to “reinforc[e] Allied unity, solidarity, and cohesion, including to cement the centrality of the transatlantic bond.”
Are the US and EU truly committed to multilateral cooperation? It requires leadership on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Promising Avenues of Cooperation
By concentrating on areas of cooperation, the US and the EU can reinforce their relationship and rebuild trust. Doing so must also include recognition of cultural differences between the parties.
1. China is a thorny problem because it is multifaceted. There is no good compromise possible on China’s disregard for human rights. The risk of military intervention, whether in Taiwan or the China Sea, is a common undertaking. Contrary to the EU, the US has for too long upheld the illusion that it can, and is entitled to, change regimes abroad: many wars were predicated on this idea. The economic relationship can be in the mutual interest, provided that security is not compromised.
2. Climate Change was denied by the Trump administration and the Republican Party. Europe is a global leader in addressing climate change. If the US wants to join that effort, it needs to accept scientific evidence. The US must secure its alliance by proving that climate commitments are not easily reversible and by installing private and public investments to improve the climate situation. Today, there appears to be hope, with the US and EU having largely convergent climate plans.
3. Immigration is a shared experience between the United States and Europe. Migrations across countries are as old as mankind, and migrants are not the enemy as long as we learn from our mistakes. Europe and the US appeal to geographically different populations. With an aging and declining population, the West will need migrants.
It is critical to create a permanent infrastructure and integration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that will prioritize those who flee prosecution and war from those who are seeking better pastures. Europe and the US have an opportunity to drive this world effort.
The convergence of values and interests between the US and Europe is unquestionable. The last four years have destabilized and weakened this vital relationship on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. A respectful and level playing field is the only way to restore trust and confidence. World peace is at stake.