Should the window of opportunity open after November 3, we offer three approaches that Europeans – and their transatlantic counterparts, for that matter – could use to make the most of it.
The first involves expanding the transatlantic agenda
or as long as the conversation with Washington centers primarily on the question of the NATO/European defense model, traditional approaches will prevail. Without neglecting security issues, one of the priorities for "Atlanticists" on both sides of the Ocean should be to establish a "new agenda" that focuses on the modern, current challenges such as China, the digital economy, technology, restructuring value chains, climate change and global issues. In this context, NATO would retain its role as a political forum and common security instrument. The EU, meanwhile, would take on its full role as a key geo-economic and geopolitical partner for Washington.
The second involves devising a "European strategic offer" for the United States
Intensive consensus-building work should begin immediately – ideally with all 27 members, with a smaller group for certain topics – to determine the parameters of such an "offer." Effectively, it is time for the EU to "strategize" a relationship with the United States, which has thus far been a blind spot in European policy. As a starting point, three areas can be outlined:
- Points of contention, which must still be managed, including some which may worsen with a Democratic administration (trade, Big Tech, the arms market);
- In terms of security, Europeans must clarify their expectations and on which points they are willing to expand their involvement. This exercise is likely to be more successful in the previously mentioned smaller group;
- Finally, a "European offer" should highlight two themes, which can help build bridges with a new US Democratic administration. The first involves policy towards China, as previously mentioned. The second involves the issues related to the idea of "21st century multilateralism"(internet governance, WTO and WHO reform, governance of space, AI, etc.). In particular, America’s return to the Paris Agreement should facilitate the development of joint actions on climate change that extend beyond diplomatic cooperation (such as combining private funding with transition financing).
It is particularly important that Europe, or specific European countries (E3 on Iran), should be proactive. Before the new administration is inaugurated, Europeans should take measures that are "a done deal," but around which a future US administration is willing to rally. An obvious case would be the Iran issue and, more generally, regional stability. For this, Europe’s wealth of expertise and contacts should help Washington move back towards a more constructive politics. Similar initiatives could be developed in multilateral forums.
The third involves defining the modalities of a renewed dialogue
While substance remains the priority, diplomatic experience teaches us that process does matter. In addition to ideas, it is worth building a "user’s guide" for this. After the US presidential election, there is likely to be a ’rush’ to Washington, with larger EU member states and relevant organizations racing to arrive first. The transatlantic dialogue is sure to be polyphonic – there is no central phone number to the European government, any more than there is one number in Washington – but we must not let it turn into a cacophony.
A possible user’s guide
For this purpose, we have put together a few suggestions for the aforementioned "user’s guide."
- A "European offer" could be the subject of an informal seminar (Gymnich meeting) for heads of state and government, who would meet shortly after November 3. An assessment by all 27 members would be useful in any of these three scenarios: a contested election, Donald Trump’s re-election, and a Biden victory. In the last scenario, the aim would not be to adopt a detailed program, but rather a generalized approach, based on a few key headings that are likely to build consensus: for example, China, digital governance, climate change, WHO and WTO reform, trade, and defense issues.
- On both sides of the Atlantic, those in charge should consider holding exploratory meetings as soon as possible in order to establish a new dynamic. In addition to transatlantic visits, one symbolic event might be a meeting at the EU-NATO summit or two back-to-back summits, one NATO and the other EU-US, both attended by the US President.
- If not, a "new Atlantic Charter," as Biden once envisioned, a general policy document would be of genuine value. It could map out new avenues for transatlantic cooperation and recognize the EU’s role in the new global geo-economic/geopolitical configuration. Such a document could be adopted at a summit in the first half of 2022, during the French Presidency of the EU.
- Organizing these events would require the establishment of a steering system, which would inevitably involve a "core group" limited to a few countries and organizations, despite the potential unpopularity of such an arrangement. It would also be a useful gateway for a shift from a NATO-centric transatlantic culture to a more diverse transatlantic culture, with a more prominent role for the EU.
- Europeans should ready themselves for forums centered on the defense of democracies: strict multilateralists will argue, however, that this deviates from the idea of universality that is specific to multilateralism. To influence the outcome, it would certainly be advisable to speak with America’s new leadership as soon as possible; simply opposing it would be counterproductive. Whatever the final arrangement, a European identity should be recognized, given the tools available to the EU in terms of, for example, anti-money laundering or privacy protections.
- It is time for both sides of the Atlantic to invest in the future. One need not ascribe to the theory of an inevitable "continental rift," as recently developed by Janan Ganesh, for instance. Other entry points to the transatlantic relationship should be sought beyond those resulting from the post-World War II era or even the present configuration. For example, the relationship between business and society, particularly in economic and academic circles, should be developed around issues related to digital technology, space, artificial intelligence, economic competitiveness and, more generally, today’s social issues (e.g., populism). As a second line of action, cooperation should be increased with respect to Africa and other areas that are technically outside the traditional transatlantic perimeter, but which represent key challenges for the future.
It could be argued that this program only makes sense with a Biden-Harris victory. However, this is only partly true. Even if Donald Trump is re-elected, both sides of the Atlantic must make a concerted effort along the lines previously indicated: expanding the transatlantic agenda, developing a European strategic offer and defining new forms of dialogue.