The Brief, powered by Eurochild – Transatlantic construction sites

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

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [Shutterstock/Bannafarsai_Stock]

EU-US relations will not return to how they were before the rise of Trump. Still, the transatlantic reset is on its way, although it’s arriving a bit slower than some might have wished. Yet Europeans should remember that even with Trump out of the picture, American interests are still what counts most in Washington.

Looking at a range of policy areas, an improvement in relations will require some give and take. Both sides must be willing to do so for the sake of a constructive relationship.

Security policy status: We’re getting there.

We’ve seen it with the back and forth on security and defence matters: US pressure has brought about a rise in NATO defence spending, despite a raging pandemic and the rather rogue way Trump was demanding it.

But not because of Trump’s demands – Washington has been calling for years for a more balanced burden-sharing within the alliance for years, a bipartisan issue – but because of European self-interest.

Despite the marked change in tone, the new US administration looks set to remain firm on pressing other members to do more to share NATO’s financial and military burden, albeit in a more diplomatic way.

Other than that, other post-Trump-era construction sites are yet to be removed.

Climate: (Kerry is) trying hard.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry’s recent visit to Brussels marks a major pivot for EU-US relations and US climate policy. Since taking office, President Biden has reversed many Trump-era policies and rejoined the Paris Agreement.

The EU and Washington need to align to tackle climate change, Kerry said. But neither Kerry nor Timmermans elaborated on what they could “align”, so we’ll have to wait and see what the seasoned diplomat comes up with.

Technology, trade, energy and standards policy status: We’re working on it.

Most recently, both the US and the EU agreed to suspend the tariffs mutually imposed in the context of the Boeing-Airbus dispute, while both sides try to reach a compromise on the subsidies given to their aircraft manufacturers – a symbol of this fresh start.

However, other issues are yet to be resolved, including the US tariffs on European steel and aluminium producers.

At the same time, the EU and the US are currently in talks over a new data transfer agreement after the EU’s top court struck down the Privacy Shield last year.

For her part, the Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova is hopeful, saying that with the new Biden administration there could be an opportunity for the two sides to move closer together on data protection issues.

The hot potato remains energy policy, especially with the tricky situation around Nord Stream 2. Which brings us to the most crucial transatlantic matter.

Foreign policy status: It’s complicated.

While the EU and the US will likely find more common ground under Biden, in some weightier topics they disagree on the best way to proceed, namely Russia and China.

The latter could yet prove the litmus test for transatlantic foreign policy coordination.

Under Trump, the US has been a lot more confrontational on China, while the EU has focused more on diplomacy.

All eyes will be on Thursday’s upcoming meeting of top Biden officials with Chinese government representatives.

The US side previewed the meeting in a phone call between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his counterparts in France, Germany, and the UK. Signs of better coordination between Europe and Washington? Maybe. But for that, the EU should be included, too.

The controversial EU-China investment deal (CAI) reflects an effort by some European leaders to assert the EU as a major pole in a multipolar world. But by attempting to cut a separate deal with Beijing, the EU has repeated the mistake of the Trump administration when it went solo in its trade war against China.

It will be interesting to see what further EU-US coordination on the issue, something Washington has asked for before proceeding with the deal, will look like.

Iran is another topic on which the EU and the US have taken different approaches but eventually might have a common interest in settling the issue permanently.

In short, the US administration will grow clearer in what they want to achieve over the coming years. But the EU still needs to coordinate on what it collectively wants.


A message from Eurochild: Will the Next Generation EU live up to its name? The Next Generation EU should live up to its name and put children – the next generation – at the heart of the European recovery. In Mandela’s words: “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.” Read more.


The Roundup

The EU said it is prepared to tighten COVID-19 vaccine exports to vaccine-producing countries or those with higher vaccination rates if they do not comply with its plea for “openness and reciprocity”, in a move seen as a veiled threat to the UK, one of the key vaccine manufacturing countries.

The European Commission addressed the recent accusations of unfair distributions of COVID vaccines levied against it by member states, pointing out that some countries opted not to take up all the vaccines made available to them.

In an interview aired on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden said his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is “a killer” and warned that he will soon face consequences for directing efforts to swing the 2020 US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favour.

The European Commission is by the end of the year set to propose new rules subjecting companies to stricter controls in a bid to encourage them to ensure suppliers respect human rights and do not harm the environment.

The European Commission is “not naive” about the UK’s future ambitions in the data space and will be prepared to suspend transfers of personal data to the country should the UK in the future diverge from EU standards, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders has said.

EU leaders will press the Commission to make swift progress in the establishment of sectoral data spaces as outlined in the executive’s landmark Data Strategy, draft European Council summit conclusions obtained by EURACTIV reveal.

The use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) as a therapeutic option, despite its ups and downs, has shown the EU’s renewed interest in plasma-derived medicinal products (PDMPs).

Look out for…

  • EU’s chief diplomat Joseph Borrell visit to Operation IRINI, tasked with implementing UN arms embargo on Libya
  • Informal meeting of EU environment ministers
  • EMA emergency meeting on AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine
  • European Parliament’s AFET, INTA, EMPL, IMCO, PECH, JURI Committees
  • Top Biden officials hold first talks with Chinese government representatives

Views are the author’s

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe