Under Biden, the numerous political, economic, and strategic differences between Washington and Brussels will not just disappear, and certainly, there will be no return to the good old days of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Still, Biden, with his foreign policy experience and his inclination to compromise, will work diligently to restore transatlantic relations. Under Biden, we will likely see more flexibility from Washington on trade talks with the EU, more readiness to consider the EU’s opinion on US approaches to global problems, and increased attention to European positions on regional crises.  

Europeans should not kid themselves into believing that transatlantic relations will return to the status quo ante. In all but name, the rallying cry of “America First” is here to stay. As a presidential candidate, Biden has vowed to prioritize investment in US green energy, childcare, education, and infrastructure over any new trade deals. He has also called for expanded “Buy American” provisions in federal procurement, which has long been an irritant in trade relations with the EU. Also, the EU will likely be forced to muster all the political will and resources at its disposal to carve a third way between the US and China, an issue on which there exists strong bipartisan support. The greatest danger to a vital transatlantic bond will be Europe’s temptation to believe that the relationship can go back to “business as usual”. That would be a mistake. The EU-US alliance as we have known it is dead. A Biden administration will not want to “restore” the transatlantic partnership; it will want to reinvent it for a world full of economic, climate, and health challenges, more diffuse power, rapid technological changes, greater insecurities, and intensified global competition. A reinvented transatlantic partnership will demand more, not less, of Europe. The European Commission and the EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy have understood this. In a call on the US to seize a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to forge a new global alliance, they have made a detailed pitch to bury the hatchet on the sources of tension of the Trump era, and meet the “strategic challenge” posed by China. The idea is to revitalize the transatlantic partnership by cooperating on everything, from fighting cybercrime and shaping the digital regulatory environment, to screening sensitive foreign investments and fighting deforestation. An EU-US Summit in the first half of 2021 could be the moment to launch the new transatlantic agenda. Coming up with a common approach will hinge significantly on the two economies’ ability to bridge existing divides over tech policy. Using their combined influence, a transatlantic technology space could indeed form the backbone of a wider coalition of like-minded democracies.

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