Tuesday

21st Sep 2021

Opinion

Biden in Brussels - what's in the 'in-tray'?

  • US president Joe Biden is in Brussels for summits with both Nato and the EU - following the G7 meeting in the UK at the weekend (Photo: White House)

When president Joe Biden, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel meet on Tuesday (15 June), more than seven years will have passed since the last opportunity for leaders from both sides of the Atlantic to discuss and engage face-to-face.

Diagnoses of the state of our transatlantic relationship over the past years have been as numerous as varied, ranging from strained, burdened and on life support to brightening up and increasingly resilient.

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Rather than siding with any characterisation, we aim to highlight the key characteristic uniting the abundance of assessments: rather than talking with each other, we have been busy talking about each other.

The tensions in various policy fields serve as unsettling evidence.

Trade tariffs

In trade policy, tariffs on aluminium and steel under section 232 alongside retaliatory tariffs have burdened producers and exporters on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than supporting business models fit for accelerated globalisation.

We have spent more than 15 years quarrelling at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over subsidies for aviation giants Airbus and Boeing, a dispute that seems to have fallen out of time.

All the while, we have been and still are acting against better knowledge when admitting that the root problems neither lie in individual products, such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles or plane parts, or in regions, such as the rust belt or southern Germany, Everett or Toulouse − but in Beijing or Moscow.

WTO reform

In international policy, the promotion of rule-based practices has traditionally featured prominently on both our agendas. The blockade of meaningful WTO-reform, which threatens to render the only globally renowned body in the sphere of international trade obsolete, has opened the door for a globalisation that shapes tomorrow's rules rather than the opportunity to jointly set rules that shape the future of tomorrow's globalisation.

Digital policy

In digital policy, the invalidation of the EU-US Privacy Shield by the European Court of Justice through its 'Schrems II'-ruling has caused fundamental uncertainty about the treatment of personal data to be transferred out of Europe.

Similarly, disagreement on the taxation of digital businesses is adding to a climate of uncertainty in the transatlantic digital ecosystem. Instead of limiting ourselves to assessing this uncertainty, we need to provide businesses with a clear and reliable framework by jointly enhancing a broad digital agenda.

Instead of lamenting the opportunities we missed, we need to harness our transatlantic relationship by seizing the opportunity to re-establish joint leadership.

Climate

In climate policy, both the United States as well as the European Union and its member states have committed to the obligations of the Paris Agreement.

While unity exists with regard to the aim − limiting the increase in global average temperatures − the required path towards decarbonisation of economies and societies remains unclear.

By developing and implementing bold and tangible mechanisms for the transformation of our economies, the United States and Europe could once again be leading by example.

Covid-19

In health policy and fighting the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic, trustful cooperation across the Atlantic already is a reality in the private sector, as the development and production of the Pfizer/BioNTech-vaccine against Covid-19 demonstrates. This momentum must be matched by the ambitions of our political leadership with the aim of being the drivers of global efforts in combating the pandemic.

The diplomatic groundwork for reinvigorating transatlantic leadership has been laid, epitomised by a variety of calls for new forms of cooperation: the European Commission has proposed the establishment of an EU-US Trade and Technology Council, an idea that was quickly picked up jointly by the US Chamber of Commerce and its EU counterpart BusinessEurope.

In parallel, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament has been discussing an increased legislative dialogue.

Vested with democratic legitimacy by the virtue of elections, our enhanced cooperation must be rooted in the parliamentary realm of our institutions.

Only enhancing the cooperation and exchange between the US Congress and the European Parliament can serve as backbone and heart of a stronger transatlantic bond.

Given the plethora of suggestions for enhancing transatlantic cooperation, we find it striking to realise the mismatch between ideas and the existing structures carrying our relationship.

New 'Transatlantic Assembly'?

The European Parliament sustains official relations to a total of 91 parliaments in third countries via its 44 official delegations, among them a standalone delegation dedicated to relations with the US and standalone delegations dedicated to joint parliamentary assemblies, such as the "Africa Caribbean Pacific-European Union Joint Parliamentary Assembly".

Rather than official delegations the US Congress counts eight statutory inter-parliamentary groups, among them the United States Senate-China Interparliamentary Group, the US Senate-Russia Interparliamentary Group and the British-American Interparliamentary Group. Traces of relations with its parliamentary European counterparts are found only in the context of non-statutory groups, namely the Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TLD).

In order to upgrade transatlantic cooperation by intensifying and institutionalising exchange, we call for a transformation of the Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue into a Transatlantic Assembly, composed of an equal number of parliamentarians from both sides of the Atlantic, to serve as idea lab for new impetus carrying the relationship between Washington and Brussels.

This spirit of enhanced cooperation was carried by the bill for reform of the TLD introduced in July 2019.

While the groundwork for reinvigorating transatlantic leadership has been laid, demonstrated by an abundance of good-willed public statements, it is time to match aspirations with robust structures and founding a Transatlantic Assembly.

While it will not mark the end of our joint efforts, but only the very beginning, it will already be an essential achievement: rather than talking about each other, we will be talking with each other.

Author bio

The initiative comes from Daniel Caspary and Angelika Niebler MEPs, and co-signatories include Michael Gahler, foreign policy coordinator of the EPP group, Radosław Sikorski, former foreign minister of Poland, Antonio Tajani, former president of the European Parliament and EPP-Group vice-chairs Sandra Kalniete, Esther de Lange and Andrey Kovatchev. The complete 21 are:

Daniel CASPARY MEP (EPP, Germany)

Angelika NIEBLER MEP (EPP, Germany)

Michael GAHLER MEP (EPP, Germany)

Romana TOMC MEP (EPP, Slovenia)

Antonio TAJANI MEP (EPP, Italy)

Radosław SIKORSKI MEP (EPP, Poland)

Tomas TOBÉ MEP (EPP, Sweden)

Dolors MONTSERRAT MEP (EPP, Spain)

Andrius KUBILIUS MEP (EPP, Lithuania)

Pernille WEISS MEP (EPP, Denmark)

Paulo RANGEL (EPP, Portugal)

Benoît LUTGEN (EPP, Belgium)

Andrey KOVATCHEV (EPP, Bulgaria)

Sandra KALNIETE (EPP, Latvia)

Riho TERRAS (EPP, Estonia)

Ivan ŠTEFANEC (EPP, Slovakia)

Christophe HANSEN (EPP, Luxembourg)

Luděk NIEDERMAYER (EPP, Czech Republic)

Roberta METSOLA (EPP, Malta)

Evangelos-Vasileios MEIMARAKIS (EPP, Greece)

Esther DE LANGE (EPP, Netherlands)

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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