Europeans are bracing themselves for the next 13 months of American Sturm und Drang in a fierce presidential election battle. 2024 will bring a level of unpredictability that reverberates not only in the United States but also around the world. A rerun of the Biden-Trump race seems likely but not a certainty at this point.
US President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 gave Europeans a respite from Trumpian chaos, but Germany and the EU will face a markedly different transatlantic relationship no matter who occupies the White House in the future.
Policymakers in Berlin and other European capitals were relieved to see America elect Biden, who claimed “America is back”. Yet some warned of the risks in believing Trump was a passing phase and that with Biden it would be business as usual for the transatlantic relationship.
Even before the advent of President Trump, there were warning signs of trouble ahead in the transatlantic relationship. Deeply entrenched political polarization, Washington’s tougher, bipartisan stance on China, and economic policies that reward Made in America have been a cause of consternation in Berlin despite the close cooperation on security assistance for Ukraine.
In fact, the war against Ukraine has given Europe a clear signal that it needs to strengthen its capabilities as a global actor. While the conflict has underscored the central importance of the continuing US role in Europe’s defense, it has also finally ushered in a recognition that America expects more burden sharing because of the growing rivalry with China, not to mention the mounting backlash against aid to Ukraine within the Republican Party.
Although the EU is perceived to have a positive influence in global affairs, according to the recently released GMF Transatlantic Trendssurvey, the reality is that European leaders must prepare their electorates for the long haul by bolstering defense and ensuring economic competitiveness due to challenges at home and from a shifting global order.
What options, with the goal of sustaining transatlantic collaboration, do Europeans have in anticipation of a more unpredictable America? The primary directive in the next couple of months should be to identify those areas where partnership in leadership works.
An immediate step is to demonstrate the capacity to continue to shoulder more responsibilities in Ukraine. “Zeitenwende” has entered the Washington vernacular, and German policymakers must constantly remind their American counterparts that Europe has stepped up when it comes to aiding Ukraine. This message should especially be delivered to Republicans who assert that Europeans are shirking their responsibility.
By building up conventional military capabilities, Europeans would allow America to shift resources to the Indo-Pacific. This would not only show the strategic advantages for transatlantic cooperation, spanning a security theatre from the South China Sea to the Black Sea, but also be in Europe’s self-interest.
That same partnership is needed to confront a changing global economic environment. Germany may feel squeezed between America and China but can, along with the EU, invest in staying competitive and building ties with the United States. Washington may not expect Europe to decouple with China, but it does urge more scrutiny of dual-use goods and technology, and vigilance against economic weaponization.
There should be an incentive to continue the shared prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic with a spirit of allied competition. Current negotiations for a Critical Minerals Agreement between the EU and United States, for example, not only offer an avenue to rectify negative spillover effects of the Investment Reduction Act (IRA) but cement the idea of “friendshoring” for strengthening transatlantic ties. Equally opportune is the deepening work of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council in dealing with transatlantic trade synergies and of combining forces to confront dependencies on China and, with effective sanctions, Russian aggression in Ukraine.
In addition, the Nordstream debacle left clear the threat perceptions in Berlin regarding energy supplies that have become a basis for transatlantic cooperation on liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies as Europe and the United States strive toward greener economies.
There are a multitude of areas in which challenges and choices for the United States and Germany overlap. Topics such as migration, artificial intelligence, and climate change stir emotional debates in both countries and have an impact on the political and social fabric. All these agenda items will only increase in importance and their effect on future generations.
Discussing the next set of challenges is the cornerstone for future transatlantic cooperation. How each country approaches these challenges and what prescriptions they generate for dealing with them will diverge in some cases. Nevertheless, talking with both US political parties and with subnational leaders outside Washington, just as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock did during her recent trip to the United States, offers more channels of communication regardless of the winner on November 5, 2024.
Neither the German-American relationship nor the larger transatlantic dialogue must evolve into a zero-sum conflict. A successful partnership in leadership requires the ability to pull together for the greater benefit of all parties. The stability and sustainability of German-American relations will be shaped by the recognition of the interdependence of interests, values, and goals that can cope with the headwinds of change.
Source : GMF