EU seeks new post-Trump alliance with US in face of China challenge

The EU will call on the US to seize a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to forge a new global alliance, in a detailed pitch to bury the tensions of the Trump era and meet the “strategic challenge” posed by China.

A draft EU plan for revitalising the transatlantic partnership, seen by the Financial Times, proposes new co-operation on everything from digital regulation and tackling the Covid-19 pandemic to fighting deforestation.

The paper, prepared by the European Commission, says that the EU-US partnership needs “maintenance and renewal” if the democratic world is to assert its interests against “authoritarian powers” and “closed economies [that] exploit the openness our own societies depend on”.

The 11-page set of draft policy proposals, entitled “a new EU-US agenda for global change”, includes an appeal for the EU and US to bury the hatchet on persistent sources of transatlantic tension, such as Europe’s push for greater taxation of US tech giants

It proposes that the EU and US join forces to shape the digital regulatory environment, including by adopting common approaches to antitrust enforcement and data protection, co-operating on screening of sensitive foreign investments, and working together to fight threats such as cyber-hacking. 

Other parts of the paper call for co-operation on the development and dissemination of Covid-19 vaccines and joint work to reform the World Health Organization. 

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The blueprint reflects the optimism and sheer relief in Brussels about the prospect of working with the incoming US administration, but also concern that years of scratchy transatlantic relations have given the geopolitical initiative to Beijing. The document backs president-elect Joe Biden’s idea for a summit of democracies, and says that the new transatlantic agenda should be “the linchpin of a new global alliance of like-minded partners”.

The paper, produced jointly by the commission and the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, is expected to be submitted for endorsement by national leaders at a meeting on December 10-11. It suggests a EU-US Summit in the first half of 2021 as the moment to launch the new transatlantic agenda.

One of the acute frustrations in Brussels during the Trump years has been the US administration’s reluctance to co-ordinate the two powers’ responses to China, with the White House opting to pursue unilateral trade measures not only against Beijing but also the EU. 

The paper says: “As open democratic societies and market economies, the EU and the US agree on the strategic challenge presented by China’s growing international assertiveness, even if we do not always agree on the best way to address this.”

Coming up with more of a common line will hinge significantly on the two economies’ ability to bridge existing divides over tech policy — one of the main focuses of the paper. Brussels sees the potential to work together to address issues varying from Chinese investment in innovative EU and US companies to the potential threat posed by the country’s edge in 5G technologies. 

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“Using our combined influence, a transatlantic technology space should form the backbone of a wider coalition of like-minded democracies,” the paper says.

Some of the proposals in the paper would require a clear shift in US policy. Brussels, for example, urges a joint effort to restore the World Trade Organization’s dispute-settlement system to full operation, something that would require Washington to stop blocking judicial appointments. 

The paper also highlights the potential obstacles to closer EU-US co-operation posed by disagreements both between the transatlantic powers and within the European bloc. Big Tech remains a possible flashpoint in EU and US relations and a complicating factor in any joint stance against Beijing.

Brussels’ vision of data protection rights, increased competition in the sector and reform of taxation of it will require action against the big American companies that dominate the industry. 

The draft paper’s remark that the EU and the US “do not always agree” on how to deal with China is an acknowledgment of how the European bloc’s official three-pronged strategy of co-operation, competition and rivalry with Beijing is less hawkish than bipartisan policy in Washington. 

While European institutions and member states have generally grown more sceptical about China, especially as Beijing’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy has become more aggressive during the pandemic, there is still reluctance for across-the-board confrontation. 

Some member states, such as Hungary, have individually strong ties with Beijing, while the “17+1” co-operation group set up by China with mainly central and eastern European countries includes 12 EU member states. 

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