EU-US Relations

The European Union (EU) and the United States (US) share one of the most important and successful bilateral relationships in the world. The EU needs to continue to foster an effective relationship with the US by shaping security and defence cooperation, promoting trade, protecting human rights and fighting the climate crisis. At a time of increasing global challenges, from the decline of the Western-centric order to the growing influence and assertiveness of China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is of crucial interest for the EU to renew the transatlantic partnership based on common values and an ambitious global agenda.

Deepening cooperation and promoting democracy and fundamental rights

Both the EU and the US are facing global threats such as climate change, terrorism, cyber-attacks and trade disputes, while social unrest and drivers of authoritarian populism have been threatening democratic stability. The key lesson learnt from the COVID-19 outbreak is that global threats require common solutions that only through global cooperation can be overcome. For this reason, the two superpowers need to enhance cooperation to face these mutual challenges.

Following the post-Trump era, the fiasco in Afghanistan, the AUKUS Agreement in 2021 and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the transatlantic relations need to be revamped by further deepening trust and stronger diplomatic ties. The EU-US partnership should represent an anchor for peace, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and security. Initiatives like the US-led Alliance for Democracies and the Franco-German Alliance for Multilateralism provide an opportunity to advocate solid multilateral coalitions based on the protection of fundamental rights, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The EU and the US should intensify their cooperation by reinvigorating the multilateral rules-based order and revitalising multilateral institutions, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The promotion of and respect for human rights, democracy and fundamental values should stand at the centre of the EU’s and US’ relationship. The first Summits for Democracy represent an opportunity to assess democratic erosion and foster resilient democracies across the globe. At the same time, the EU needs to comply with the rule of law to protect and foster democracy both among its Member States and externally.

Strengthening grassroots support

Cooperation must be strengthened and developed also via non-diplomatic and political links. It is of utmost importance to strengthen civil society cooperation in the transatlantic relations. In this context, a Europeanisation of Member States’ transatlantic relations is key. When it comes to concrete actions, the EU should promote and support the setting-up of a transatlantic platform of organised civil society with contact points both in North America and Europe. Integrating organised and international civil society contributes significantly to the design of modern international politics and provides a channel to promote cross-border civic rights. This transatlantic civil society should open joint citizens’ dialogues on pressing issues such as citizens’ rights, democracy, resilience to disinformation, media freedom, climate action and social rights. These transatlantic citizens’ dialogues can raise awareness to politics on both sides of the Atlantic, building on best practice examples.

Enhancing security

In these times characterised by geopolitical challenges and the increasing role of emerging powers in the international arena, the EU needs to promote a new defence partnership with the US and its international allies, such as India, Australia and the African continent, as wells as the United Kingdom (as we argue in our Policy Position on “The Future of EU-UK Cooperation on Security and Defence”). The upcoming EU-US dialogue on security and defence, announced in the last EU-US Summit, represents a timely chance to tackle common security challenges, such as foreign interferences, disruptive technologies, climate change, cyber threats, Russia’s aggressive behaviour in the EU’s neighbourhood, terrorism in the Sahel region, while facilitating cooperation on joint military projects under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and reinvigorating the EU-NATO relations. This dialogue should also address the economic and political rise of China and Russia that may jeopardise the rules-based international order. In facing the conflict in Ukraine, the transatlantic alliance needs to provide robust diplomatic and military support to Ukraine. Supported by the US, the EU needs to react to China’s attacks on human rights and fundamental and democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and in China’s mainland, including the Xinjiang region and Tibet, through targeted sanctions within the EU global human rights sanctions regime.

Strategic autonomy

Strong transatlantic ties rely on a strong European Union. Without distancing itself from the US and its key partners, a stronger EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is paramount to deepening and fortifying the transatlantic relations. A new European strategy that is not limited to defence and technological capabilities will give the EU credibility and lessen its dependence on the US and NATO. To do so, the EU needs to overcome its political paralysis by moving away from unanimity to a qualified majority voting (QMW) in matters of foreign and security policy. The ambition and long-term horizon of the Strategic Compass can deepen strategic autonomy by making the EU a provider of security and an international player that ensures the protection of common values and contributes to international peace.

Deepening trade and economic cooperation

Economic cooperation between the EU and the US must be built on reciprocity, transparency and a level playing field. Deepening transatlantic trade offers would be a solid basis to enhance competitiveness and economic growth, while promoting international social and labour standards that safeguard the wellbeing of citizens and leave no one behind. Moreover, the EU needs to ensure an open and fair environment for trade and investment, while protecting European citizens and businesses. In this respect, the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC) launched by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the United States Joe Biden has the potential to coordinate global trade, technological innovation and economic issues in a transparent way. Moreover, the EU needs to ensure that the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), a climate measure that intends to put a carbon price on imports of a variety of products to prevent carbon leakage and curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, is compatible with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and does not represent a barrier to trade.

Tackling the climate crisis

The climate crisis spares no one. Only by working together and enhancing collaboration between international organisations, national as well as regional and local governments, businesses, civil society and NGOs can we effectively address this threat and reverse climate change.

The US and the EU together are responsible for close to half of all CO2 emissions over time. This means that both the US and the EU have a significant historic responsibility for climate change and the negative impacts it already afflicts on poorer countries and their populations who in turn have contributed very little to accumulated GHG emissions. It is therefore paramount that both the US and the EU advance at a global level the discussions and decisions on taking up responsibility for loss and damages, in particular with regards to the upcoming COP 27 in Egypt.

With the renewed climate leadership from the US with President Biden’s return to the Paris Agreement and the pledge to be climate neutral by 2045, the US and the EU, guided by the European Green Deal objectives, must be the axis to drive global environmental and climate action. We expect both the US and the EU to show leadership in the upcoming negotiations of a legally binding international treaty to end plastic pollution which are starting later this year, and which can only be successful if both enter the negotiations with the highest ambitions.

The EU and US must renew their efforts to ensure the full implementation of the Paris Agreement, which is essential to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The EU must lead by example and commit to its ambitious climate and environmental agenda. The European Commission needs to take an intergenerational sustainability approach in all policy areas and present a framework strategy for the implementation of the SDGs.

The EU must successfully deliver the European Green Deal by leading its climate efforts and becoming a global example worth following and emulating. The EU needs to continue to support climate action in developing countries by increasing its role in climate diplomacy and financing climate-friendly investments all over the world, especially in those regions which have already been most affected by climate change. The recent establishment of the EU-US High-Level Climate Action Group and the plans for an EU-US Transatlantic Green Technology Alliance pinpoint the renewed transatlantic climate cooperation. Both initiatives should turn into concrete bodies with a clear, transparent institutional structure and a shared climate and environmental agenda. Moreover, the EU and US need to address climate security as a response to the increasing impacts of climate change.

Shaping the digital future

As we work to forge new agreements for future cooperation with the US and other allies, the EU should continue to lead by example with some of the most robust privacy protections in the world. The EU should actively work with our allies to establish and strengthen their own comparable privacy protections to create more opportunities for bilateral cooperation and growth. The TTC provides an opportunity to pursue such collaboration.

The EU and US need to utilise the power and potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to foster growth and competition in existing as well as emerging sectors, particularly in a moment in which China aims to become world leader in the AI market, while regulating it to ensure the protection of citizens’ rights, as laid out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the European Convention on Human Rights, and meet international human rights standards.

Moreover, the EU should deepen cooperation on issues of cyber warfare by imposing sanctions against cyber-attacks from hostile actors, especially Chinese and Russian state-backed groups, threatening the EU and its member states. A coordinated approach is necessary to improve security and safeguard European democracy and citizens.

Published in July 2022

EU-US Relations

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