Nathalie Tocci is Pierre Keller visiting professor at Harvard Kennedy School, director of Istituto Affari Internazionali, member of the board of directors of ENI and author of POLITICSView of the world column.
WASHINGTON, DC – We have embarked on a new era of transatlantic blues.
From Afghanistan to the AUKUS alliance, the brief honeymoon between the European Union and America of US President Joe Biden appears to be over. But it’s important to remember, after the exaggerated optimism that followed the late Trump years, that transatlantic relations have always had their frictions and frustrations, their ups and downs – and we’re poised for another rebound.
Indeed, the launch of the EU-U.S. Business and Technology Council (TTC) in Pittsburgh last week points the way to the relationship rebirth and the true center of transatlantic relations in the 21st century. The fourth industrial revolution, public health, economic recovery, the green energy transition, this is where European change is really taking place, and this is where the greatest potential for cooperation with the United States lies.
Despite all the rhetoric about diplomacy and alliances set out in Biden’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the United States will act – as it always has – in its national interest. And as US interests align with the EU on European security, its need to strategically reorient towards China and invest more in deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region will also mean continued gradual disengagement from surrounding regions. from Europe.
The only reasonable conclusion for the EU to draw is to take its own responsibilities in its neighborhood. Afghanistan and UKUS have rekindled the debate on European defense and strategic autonomy – but unfortunately almost nothing is happening.
Europeans continue to talk about security and defense and, in all fairness, are gradually investing more in their capabilities. But when it comes to action, with the exception of France’s operation in the Sahel, there isn’t much to see.
A strong transatlantic partnership should eventually include a more balanced security and defense relationship – a relationship with greater European responsibility, as well as greater respect from the United States. Maybe one day it will. But that day is not today.
That’s not to say that there isn’t much the two sides can do together. Areas such as the economy, technology, climate and energy transition offer much more promising avenues for meaningful cooperation. In these areas, the pandemic has offered the EU the opportunity to act – and Europe has seized it. The EU is emerging from this coronavirus crisis as one, with its ability to offer its citizens a real display.
The TTC is the most immediate example of the potential of this type of transatlantic coordination. The inaugural meeting’s concern over the behavior of the Chinese market also reflects a fundamental truth: The world is moving into a new bipolar structure, largely revolving around the United States and China.
This does not mean that other powers, including the EU, are irrelevant. But it does imply that they will be drawn to one pole or the other, largely depending on the nature of their political systems. Unlike the Cold War, however, today’s competition is deeply interdependent and is played out primarily in the economic and technological spheres.
This puts Europe in a distinctly different position than before: while in the 20th century Europe mattered to the United States because it was on the proverbial menu, today the EU matters because ‘she has a seat at the table.
Economic, technological and energy transitions will be the beating heart of the 21st century transatlantic partnership. Unlike defense, these are areas where Europe has taken responsibility – and gained respect.
This is not to say that there are no differences in these areas as well. Although progress has been made – on decarbonization targets, pledges of climate finance and the launch of the global methane alliance, for example – deep waters still separate the EU and the US, especially on issues such as carbon pricing. If the two sides fail to find common ground, some of them risk turning into substantial transatlantic divides, both strategically vis-à-vis China and for the future of our planet.
Honeymoons come and go, but now that real life has begun, it’s time to make the relationship work – especially in those areas of transition that are so existential to both of them.