December 2020

By Mathilde Defarges and Etienne Bodard

After four years of a Trump administration that many European leaders viewed as unilateral and confrontational in its approach, the European Union is signaling a strong willingness to work with the incoming Biden team. Over the past several weeks, European institutions have circulated two documents calling for renewed Transatlantic cooperation on a wide range of challenges.

On December 2, the European Commission released a communication entitled, “A new EU-US agenda for global change.” It highlights four areas where Brussels and Washington can better coordinate on shared concerns:

  • Public health and handling the COVID pandemic. In particular, the Commission calls for closer cooperation on vaccine development and distribution, and for a joint effort to reform the World Health Organization.
  • Climate change and working together to make the Transatlantic economy greener and more sustainable.
  • Technology and trade. A particularly contentious area, Brussels offers to work with Washington on regulatory convergence that would help data and technology flow freely between both sides of the Atlantic. It also acknowledges differences that remain over issues such as taxation and antitrust law but calls for strengthened dialogue on those areas to minimize friction.
  • Closer EU-US cooperation to protect democratic values, globally. In particular, China is singled out as an actor that both sides of the Atlantic view as a “strategic challenge” and that requires joint action.

In addition to the Commission's communication, on Monday 7 December, the foreign affairs ministers of the EU’s member states released conclusions that hit on many of the same points, and add mention of the EU's ability to pursue “its strategic course of action and (…) act autonomously (…) [to] contribute to strengthening the transatlantic partnership.” This is seen as a way for the institution to promote the now widely accepted notion of “strategic autonomy” while reconciling France's and other EU member states’ competing visions of the concept in the realm of security. The EU’s heads of state will gather for a summit on December 10-11 where they are expected to deliver further statements urging renewed Transatlantic cooperation.

European capitals are evidently very impatient to start working with the new Biden administration in January 2021. While points of friction remain, this goodwill should hopefully provide enough momentum for Transatlantic relations to chart a new cooperative path going forward.