The coronavirus crisis has shown how vulnerable we all are: the virus does not respect borders, and we have learned that our economies are linked in ways that make too many of our critical supply chains one-sided, leaving us dependent on others for simple but essential goods like protective masks. These acute challenges associated with the pandemic should push us to think anew about how we will confront another urgent threat whose consequences will be amplified by interdependence: climate change. It has been clear for decades that our ways of doing business are not sustainable. We exploit natural resources and the environment without regard for the natural disasters, mass migration, community devastation, and public health crises that climate change potentially creates and accelerates. This must stop.
Tackling Climate Change Effectively
The U.S.-European relationship of the future must be based on a level-headed partnership with new priorities at its heart, including climate change. On both sides of the Atlantic, there is increasing popular support for a dramatic change in policies and investment that can drive real progress on the climate. In the United States, members of Congress have pressed for a Green New Deal. Europe, too, needs a so-called Green Deal. For Europeans, the Green Deal must strengthen our energy independence and boost domestic demand in the post-pandemic economic recovery. It should also be an instrument for a renewable energy partnership with African countries.
But this Green Deal can form a new transatlantic bridge should the United States, at some point in the not-too-distant future, choose to adopt a robust Green New Deal of its own. Here are some ways to amplify that opportunity.
- Forge new alliances: The EU could provide incentives for European regions leading the way in climate policy together with U.S. partner regions to forge new alliances.
- Provide adequate funding: The EU should show this commitment in the new Multiannual Financial Framework through, for instance, a separate EU structural policy funding line enabling a grant-making partnership between the EU and the United States for the Green Deal. This would contribute to funding structures that increase public awareness of climate change, and it would foster cooperation between public entities such as cities and industrial actors to align climate goals and share best practices.
- Negotiate a fair trade agreement: They should start new negotiations on a fair transatlantic trade agreement, in a transparent way based on international law for the protection of humanity, the climate, and the environment, safeguarding public services of general interest and abandoning the very notion that a private court should litigate conflicts between states and private entities like corporations.
- Incorporate other major players: China and India will both be central to EU-U.S. collaboration on climate change because there is no way to make global progress without Chinese and Indian participation. Europe and the United States need to have a shared and coordinated approach, especially on China, that addresses both the geostrategic challenges posed by the country’s authoritarian systemic rivalry and its economic and technological ambitions and the opportunities to include China in global efforts to tackle problems like climate change.
A note of caution here is warranted: Europe’s inability to establish a cohesive continent-wide vision to deal with issues like 5G connectivity and the Belt and Road Initiative, compounded with China’s economic inroads in some key European countries through the 17+1 format, are major hurdles to overcome. Simultaneously, the United States and China have been locked in a bitter trade war with both sides imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on U.S. and Chinese goods. The United States and Europe ought to jointly address Chinese investment practices and 5G technology—especially with the United States leaving trenches and individual EU member states abandoning short-term economic advantages at the cost of European cohesiveness. The EU and the United States together have much to gain by effectively using and reforming the World Trade Organization’s legal framework to include better environmental and social standards for global trade.
Rejuvenating the Foundations of Liberalism
Progress on climate change will not happen without work to renew the foundations and conditions for liberal democracy and to reinvigorate the transatlantic relationship more broadly. Inclusive public goods should be at the center of this renewal: education, healthcare, social safety nets, and high-quality news. We could define an agenda on how inclusive public goods should look in the twenty-first century. We must also promote safe and humane digitalization and jointly protect our liberal democracies against fake news, conspiracy theories, and online hate speech—whether these threats emanate from inside or outside. This means passing tough regulations of social networks and platforms and breaking up data monopolies. The United States and the EU should return to effective antitrust policies and apply them to the digital sphere.
The transatlantic relationship will never be easy, but it can always be respectful, pursued in good faith, and with an eye toward the long term. We—both Americans and Europeans—should stop trying to bully each other to push our interests through. We should stop weaponizing our interconnectedness. It makes no sense for U.S. President Donald Trump to threaten us with punitive duties on European products, just as it is wrong that the EU should menacingly plan to impose import duties on U.S. goods. It is insane for the United States to walk out of the negotiations through the Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development on a digital taxation scheme and to once again threaten retaliatory penalties if Europeans go ahead with the negotiations.
We should stop talking about each other and start talking to each other; we need to learn to listen to each other again. Insults and cursing may be the culture of the U.S. real estate world, but it surely is not a productive way to gain the attention of leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The populist rhetoric and vituperations Trump seems to stir up for his domestic political base at his rallies are heard in Europe, too, and they contribute to a poisoning of the political discourse and climate.
There is room for progress on both sides of the Atlantic. The United States must bring a serious plan on climate change to the table, along with a serious recommitment to a respectful transatlantic partnership. We Europeans must be ready to compromise and bring ideas and resources to the table, too. We should throw the 2 percent national defense spending goal for NATO members out of the window. It makes no sense for Europeans to have national targets. We must create European capabilities and synergies. We should define joint NATO qualitative objectives, theaters, and situations where we have to and want to be able to act and define the capabilities we need accordingly—as Americans, as Europeans, and together. We cannot assume that this is just about the United States: we Europeans have to deliver when the day comes that the U.S. government has regained its senses. This is a precondition for another seventy-five years of a fruitful, predictable, value-based transatlantic partnership.
Franziska Brantner is a Member of the German Bundestag from the Green Party and a former Member of the European Parliament.