A new transatlantic agenda

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The US administration has hit out at calls in the EU for personal data to be localized on the bloc and thus avoid having to be transferred to third countries, following a ruling from the European Court of Justice last year in the famed Schrems II case.

The EU-US Trade and Technology Council marks an opportunity for de-escalation and bridge-building in the troubled transatlantic relationship, writes Anna Michelle Asimakopoulos. [Shutterstock]

Instead of asking what the United States can do for Europe, we must ask ourselves what we can do for each other, writes Gunnar Hökmark.

Gunnar Hökmark is the president of the Stockholm Free World Forum and a former member of European Parliament.

In the ambition to make Europe a real geopolitical player the European Commission is currently cultivating an agenda that risks making Europe weaker rather than stronger.

The various ideas about Strategic Autonomy are based on the illusion that you compete better if you compete on your own. However, what rather is Tactical Protectionism is not a serious strategy if you wish to be a geopolitical force as it will cause isolation rather than autonomy.

Many of the recent proposals build on the false premise that European companies would be more able to compete on a global level if they are safeguarded from the forces of global competition.

Just as wrong are the ideas that faster digitalisation can be reached through regulations that hinder the development of digital platforms.

The ideas about a trade policy that favours European businesses on the European market, rather than their competitiveness on the global markets, will never make Europe a natural centre for their global development. It is a provincial approach that threatens our ability to act as a geopolitical power.

Europe’s lack of understanding of its own responsibilities on the global scene is nowhere as apparent as in the bilateral relations with the US. The European expectations of Joe Biden’s ability to restore and develop the relationship between the EU and the US are certainly high, but they tend to lean in one direction only – what the US can do for Europe.

Too little attention is paid to what Europe can do for our common interests regarding a strong transatlantic economy and the ability to protect the free world against its current aggressive adversaries.

With this attitude, there is a great risk that the four years with Biden will be nothing but a temporary return to the times when the global conflict between East and West had its epicentre in Europe.

Those days are long gone. We are currently experiencing a global power shift that risks putting Europe out of the geopolitical loop if we are stuck with the logic of the Cold War, unable to adjust to the new realities.

In 2009 when Barack Obama took office, the EU economy, with its $14.8 trillion in GDP, was somewhat larger than the American, with its $14.5 trillion (IMF). Both economies were far larger than China’s, whose GDP was $5 trillion. Together, the EU and the US economies stood for half of the world’s total GDP back then.

Today, China’s total GDP is almost as big as the EU’s – $16.5 trillion and $17 trillion, respectively.

The US economy has grown to become the world’s largest, at $22 trillion. The transatlantic economy currently represents 40% of a total global GDP of $91 trillion. This means that the remaining 60% is created outside the democratic force field that is the EU and the US.

Thus, when it comes to our common political influence in the world, as well as Europe’s security perspective, the odds are not in our favour. China has drastically increased its GDP over the past few decades while Russia, despite its stagnating global importance, remains a significant military threat to Europe.

In other words, Europe needs the US in order to handle Russia, while the US needs Europe in order to handle the global threat of the Chinese dictatorship. Thus, instead of asking what the US can do for Europe, we must ask ourselves what we can do for each other.

First and foremost, Europe must – through its own defence efforts and unified security policy – contribute to a long-term US willingness to be a part of European security. At the same time, we must ensure that the global economy does not become a playground for the world’s strongest dictatorship – China.

Furthermore, the different trade and investment agreements the EU and the US have with China should be followed up by a joint Atlantic Commission. This commission should supervise whether China is living up to the different agreements and ensure that China faces consequences for its infringements on mutually agreed trade conditions.

It can pave the way for how the EU and US can take new and joint steps in trade negotiations with China.

The European business sector must be given a fair chance to compete globally. This can be ensured by opportunities for low taxes, innovations, private investments and stable infrastructure of the digital economy that attracts capital, not by undermining the owners’ rights to develop and manage their companies as the European Commission is planning.

The latter would be catastrophic for European industries and our attractiveness for investments.

The European trade policy should strive for an open global market, instead of creating obstacles that in reality are nothing more than European answers to Donald Trump’s trade wars. The EU, along with the US, must strive to develop the conditions for global trade.

This means not only strengthening the transatlantic economy, but also the Pacific region and the Latin American economies, where Europe in both cases can go far with new agreements and negotiations. Moreover, the World Trade Organisation must be reformed in such a way that attempts of political pressure are never accepted.

The rules of the digital economy must have a global – not a regional European – perspective. The EU legal framework should not, in the belief that this is the right way to support European companies, create obstacles for successful American digital platforms that have been crucial to the fast digitalization of Europe, as well as the whole world.

This would only discourage the process of our own digitalization. Instead, we must create opportunities for European entrepreneurship and competitiveness. The laws that protect personal integrity must be neutral when it comes to technology and origin of the platforms.

We must have common transatlantic regulations for how personal data is protected within the framework of the responsibility of businesses and modern legislation. We cannot create walls for data traffic and impose protectionist measures against digital platforms from other countries.

Shaping the common agenda together with the US is also crucial in terms of creating opportunities for a green and sustainable future.

Only together can Europe and the US make a change by encouraging technological development, new sources of energy, development of already existing sources such as nuclear power, new industrial processes and modern methods of transportation.

These are the terms for a new transatlantic agenda, where Europeans and Americans solve policy related problems together – an agenda that represents the interests of the free world.

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