Table of Contents

History will not view the 2010s as a high point for transatlantic relations. In the first half of the decade, former U.S. President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia struck some Europeans as a kind of geopolitical infidelity, and then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s observation that NATO had a “dim if not dismal” future unless Europeans brought more to the table only added to the sting. In the second half, President Donald Trump’s at times open hostility to Europe and European leaders—and his consistent disdain for multilateralism—deepened concerns that the United States’ commitment to the transatlantic relationship was not the permanent fixture that many had assumed it to be.

Renewing the Promise of Transatlanticism

Europeans have not been passively accepting this new reality. Some are pushing to rejuvenate transatlanticism, while others are trying to make European self-reliance and EU strategic autonomy more frequent topics of conversation. In Washington, a growing chorus of transatlanticists—veterans of both Republican and Democratic administrations—decry the damage wrought by Trump’s behavior and his administration’s policies.

William J. Burns
William J. Burns was president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He previously served as U.S. deputy secretary of state.
More >

In this new decade, the transatlantic relationship will remain foundational to the security, prosperity, and freedom of people and societies on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet, even with a possible change in administration in the United States, the notion that U.S. and European leaders can will the transatlantic relationship into its exact shape before Trump, the coronavirus pandemic, and the pivot to Asia is a mirage. We cannot return to 1949 or 1992—or even 2016. The world has changed, and the transatlantic relationship must change with it. The United States is focusing more attention and resources elsewhere in the world, particularly on China and the Indo-Pacific—and Europe is doing so too. The resurgence of populism in both Europe and the United States poses another political and economic obstacle for each to manage. And overarching global challenges—“problems without passports” like climate change, pandemics, and the revolution in emerging technologies—do not fit neatly within the agendas and capacities of existing institutions. As the international landscape evolves, so too must the transatlantic relationship.

We must design and execute a new transatlanticism that both retains the foundation of mutual defense rooted in shared values and also charts a more affirmative, expansive, and flexible approach that supports domestic renewal on both sides of the ocean. We have a common interest in inclusive economic growth; technology policies and investments that can effectively compete with China’s much different vision; environmental policies that steer the world toward a cleaner, greener future; and defense policies that are more balanced. We should commit to working within our own societies and in partnership with others to address the political nervous breakdowns that have taken place on both sides of the Atlantic, the corruption that undermines democracy’s legitimacy, and the threats to our institutions and elections. These steps are grounded in our shared values, and they are more sustainable and productive than a narrower, reactive focus on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s perfidy (real as it is), Beijing’s assertiveness, or the persistently volatile tangle of instability and conflict in the Middle East.

Thinking Creatively About Transatlantic Ties

Rather than asking how we can restore the relationship we had, we must ask how we can reinvent transatlantic relations for a new era. The authors in this compendium have been asked to consider what features the U.S.-Europe relationship could and should have by 2030 and, in considering that question, answer two others:

  1. What should we stop doing? What are the practices, policies, or organizations that we have held on to out of inertia or that are no longer useful or justified, given the ways in which the world around us has changed? How can we take advantage of a moment of transition, of crisis, and of purposeful rethinking to cast off or set aside things that don’t make sense as part of the transatlantic relationship of the future?
  2. What should we start doing? What are the opportunities for innovation and diplomatic entrepreneurialism in this moment? What is missing from the architecture of the U.S.-Europe relationship? What issues or relationships have we underinvested in in the past that will be more important to the transatlanticism of the future?

The essays that make up this compendium are purposefully provocative—intended less as specific policy prescriptions for 2021, and more to spur thinking about where we might aim for 2025 and beyond. Michael Chertoff, who served as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, examines the intersection of technology and transatlanticism. Catherine Ashton, former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, weighs in on trade. U.S. Congressman Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and human rights expert Sarah Margon argue for a more expansive view of burden sharing and a more aggressive joint approach on tackling corruption. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer lays out a vision for how security partnerships can evolve. Gergely Karácsony, the Mayor of Budapest, offers a hopeful vision for how subnational partnerships can be a driving force for a kind of progressive cosmopolitanism (even in the shadow of regressive populism). Former Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Linda Etim challenges Americans and Europeans to rethink the scale, structure, and execution of their approaches to international development and to tackle racism as they do so. And rising star Franziska Brantner, former EU parliamentarian and current Green Party member of the German Bundestag, calls for climate policy to be the center of a joint action agenda in the coming decade.

These thoughtful commentaries reflect a strong and enduring commitment to the transatlantic partnership and a forward-looking approach to managing the shared challenges before us. There truly has never been a more important moment in which to remind ourselves, on both sides of the Atlantic, of the continuing centrality of our relationship and the need to reimagine it, together.