The Biden presidency offers Europe and the United States the opportunity of a renewed partnership. We should seize it. An op-ed by Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, chairpersons of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris promised America a fresh start, rebuilding trust in democratic institutions and reaching across the aisle instead of promoting gridlock. This chance for a new beginning also applies to patching the relationship between the European Union and the US, which has been bruised and battered by the Trump administration. Values such as democracy, human rights, and a rights-based world order are the pillars on which cooperation between the EU and the USA is founded – despite all disagreements. We should seize the historic opportunity of this moment to revive and strengthen this alliance. At the same time, Europe must make great efforts towards greater strategic sovereignty, especially after the sorry affair of Brexit.
The new US administration is facing massive domestic challenges. The US, like Europe, has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating social and economic consequences. Moreover, it is searching for a unifying idea for this vast and divided nation to rally around.
Joe Biden has promised not only to lead the US out of the pandemic, but to build back better, to restore economy and society, making it climate-neutral and strong enough to weather future crises, while also protecting and strengthening democracy and the rule of law. This is also the way ahead for us in Europe, a course we embarked upon with the Green Deal. After wasted years of disruption, dismantlement, and reducing ourselves to geopolitical dwarves, we are facing similar challenges on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time, we have a shared opportunity to forge a fresh democratic social contract: a new environmental, economic, and social agenda.
The window of opportunity for this agenda is now opening. This is the crucial decade to launch a carbon-neutral economy, equip our industry for the future, and make globalization fairer. Only together can Europe and the US be a democratic alternative to China’s authoritarian hegemonic aspirations and become a bedrock of enlightenment, prosperity, and stability in the world.
As delightful as the transition from a Trump to a Biden White House is for Europe, it is no invitation to sit back and relax. Now, in these challenging days of new beginnings in the US, is precisely the moment for Europe to make America an ambitious offer for a renewed transatlantic agenda.
Build back better
Joe Biden promised to make climate protection the engine of economic growth and prosperity and unveiled an ambitious 1.9 trillion dollar-plan to achieve it. It includes massive investments in renewable energies, infrastructure and mobility, the health system, social housing projects, and schools and day-care centers. Biden wants to put America’s economy on a new track towards recovery and help bridge the social divide in the country. This is where the EU, under the auspices of its own Green Deal, can join forces with the US.
Build back better also means working together to strengthen international institutions. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us all that national measures are no match for a global crisis. Now that President Biden has initiated his country’s return to the WHO, the EU should propose a transatlantic initiative to reform and strengthen the WHO. At the same time, the EU and the US should intensify cooperation with like-minded countries to boost their resilience against future pandemics. This includes strengthening national health systems and the joint production and solidary distribution of medical equipment, drugs, and vaccines with a focus on solidarity with poorer states.
A Transatlantic Alliance for climate neutrality
As one of his first acts in office, President Biden recommitted the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement and announced that he would make climate action a priority of his presidency. No other partnership in the world can be more critical to meeting the Paris climate goals as a transatlantic alliance for climate neutrality. Close transatlantic cooperation and multilateral formats increase our chances of setting common product standards to promote key technologies in energy production, mobility, and industry, and to also get China on board.
The EU Commission should draw up a proposal for a joint compensation mechanisms for CO2 limits and invite the new US administration to create a transatlantic trade zone for climate neutrality, which should also be open to other states.
With the EU’s Green Deal and the Biden/Harris administration’s ambitious plans for a climate-neutral economy, there is a lot of common ground to create joint transatlantic product standards, to invest in research and development, and to build new alliances with the private sector. This applies, for example, to expanding hydrogen infrastructures that reduce process emissions for climate-neutral steel and cement, as well as to common standards, financing models, and expanding production capacities for batteries, battery recycling, and charging infrastructures for e-mobility.
At the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), Europe and the US must present significantly more ambitious CO2 reduction targets and an agreement on ambitious climate protection financing. For this purpose, we should create a US-European working group at the ministerial level to define common goals.
At the same time, we should formulate objectives for a common foreign policy on climate and energy, involving our respective diplomatic corps, development organizations, and development banks. One of the objectives should be to constructively integrate China in these efforts and to significantly reduce coal financing in emerging and developing countries as a counterproposal to the Chinese Silk Road Initiative.
Digitalization offers great potential for transatlantic cooperation. There are ongoing efforts in both Congress and the EU to break up or limit the market power of the big tech monopolies. This is where a transatlantic initiative should come in. The EU and US should quickly reach an agreement on a digital corporation tax to jointly regulate and tax large tech corporations.
The fight against misinformation and hate speech on the internet should also be tackled jointly within the scope of our legal possibilities. California’s digital privacy legislation, for instance, is quite similar to EU legislation governing online privacy. President Biden has already signaled that he will reach out to Europe in this important area. EU member states should make this a high priority because the technologies that both support and threaten our democracy must be regulated by the state. A first step would be a digital responsibility codex for corporations. The EU Digital Services Act (DSA) offers an approach to regulating digital platforms that may become an international standard.
In addition, we should establish common standards for artificial intelligence and innovation that put people at the center of innovation. With its White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, Europe is leading the way with actionable proposals for regulating algorithms. These approaches, already proven in practice, can serve as a starting point for common regulation.
We also need transatlantic rules and standards for platforms that stall innovation and stifle competition. The Digital Markets Act (DMA) is crucial to reach a common understanding on this matter.
Democracy and the rule of law
Not only in the US, but also in the EU, democratic principles and the rule of law have been under attack from within for some time. It is for good reason that the EU is currently trying to leverage the rule of law mechanism to prevent the dismantling of independent judiciaries or the restriction of a free press, as we are currently witnessing in Hungary. Europe and the United States should use this opportunity to present a joint agenda for robust democracies that strengthens democratic standards and rule of law at home and serves as a protective mechanism against authoritarian states. Joint initiatives for better global governance are good starting points, such as President Biden’s proposal of a Summit of Democracies and the Alliance for Multilateralism.
Our global system is engaged in a competition between democratic and autocratic systems. A crucial aspect in this contest is whether fruitful cooperation between Europe and the US is possible. We need a common strategy in dealing with China. Rivalry with autocratic states goes far beyond economic policy questions; it is a crucial question of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and ecology as opposed to illiberal, repressive systems. It is therefore vital to make these values hard criteria of our free trade. Trade is a powerful lever to defend and strengthen human rights and fundamental democratic values. Unfortunately, the EU-China investment agreement, hastily concluded by the German government at the end of last year, contradicts this very goal.
Europe should seize the opportunity to engage in intensive exchange with the new US administration to promote trade and investment with high environmental and social standards so we can set global standards in the transatlantic economic area. Within the WTO, international financial institutions, as well as the G20, we should launch a joint initiative for green investments.
It is also time to settle the Airbus-Boeing dispute, lift US tariffs on EU aluminum and steel, and impose stricter regulations on industrial subsidies and state-owned enterprises.
Even under President Biden, the focus of US security policy will not be redirected primarily at Europe. The EU and its member states must assume more responsibility in foreign and security policy. This is particularly true in our own region of the world if we don’t want to continue to stand by passively and watch Russia, Turkey or China continually expand their influence. The security of the EU’s eastern neighbors should be bolstered by an Eastern Partnership Security Compact.
In order not to further endanger the independence and security of Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 must be stopped and the US should lift its sanctions in response to Nord Stream 2.
After years of pointless debate over the two per cent target, what we need now is a strategic realignment and a new, broader concept of how to share the burden within NATO.
We should consider creating a European Cyber Security Center fill Europe’s capability gaps in this area and to enable Europe to assume a greater share of the burden. The EU’s new Competence Centre for Cyber Security can be a good basis for this.
Europe and the US should also urgently repair the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA) and work together to continue the New START Treaty to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Lastly, it is time for a new joint disarmament and arms control initiative, which must include China as well as Russia and address both nuclear and conventional armament.
Both in the US and in Europe, recent years were ridden with internal strife, dwindling global influence, and a loss of common ground. But it is not a given that these trends must continue. Europe and the US have a long shared tradition, and the agenda of common tasks is vast. Together, we can shape this new decade for the benefit of people on both sides of the Atlantic, address global challenges, and strengthen democracy and the rule of law worldwide. Our political ambitions should measure up to the scale of the challenges before us. Together, we can make a big difference. Let’s get started.
Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck are the party chairpersons of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens). A German version of this article originally appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on January 23, 2021.
The views and conclusions contained in the text express the author's opinions and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.