Transatlantic Cooperation with the Biden Administration

Interview with Philip T. Reeker, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Copyright: Shutterstock

Which areas do you think will take the forefront for transatlantic cooperation in the short term and in the long term of the Biden Administration?

That’s a great question. Germany is one of our staunchest allies, and the U.S.-Germany relationship is built on shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and rule of law. Strengthening our relationship with Germany is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and is part of a larger goal of renewing the transatlantic partnership, increasing cooperation with our NATO allies, and revitalizing our relationship with the EU.

President Biden’s first overseas trip to the United Kingdom and Belgium set for June 11-14 reflects the priority that he places on these relationships. He has said working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners is the cornerstone of all we hope to achieve in the 21st century. Our cooperation is fundamental to meeting the challenges of a rapidly evolving world – whether that’s a sustainable economic recovery, a warming planet, strategic adversaries, or realizing democracy’s promise of a just, equitable, and prosperous life for our peoples. I should note nothing better demonstrates the need for like-minded democracies to work closely together on shared concerns like a challenge to the rules-based international order. Belarus’s May 23 forced diversion of a Ryanair flight between two EU capitals to detain an opposition journalist is a horrific example.

The Biden Administration has stated their ambitious climate goals and has emphasized the economic benefits of climate action, particularly the creation of new jobs. To engage in this matter with its transatlantic partners how could trade and climate policy be linked, for example?

Well, the Biden Administration understands the critical role the United States must play in the global climate effort and is wasting no time reengaging with the global community on this shared challenge. And how we approach the climate crisis will affect our economic growth. Addressing the climate crisis is both an imperative and an opportunity--to speed up economic recovery, build a more sustainable future, create millions of good-paying jobs, and promote resilience to a changing climate. If we are to successfully combat the existential threat that the climate crisis poses and seize the economic and developmental opportunities ahead of us, we must accomplish three critical things in the decade ahead: first, we must urgently transition away from carbon-intensive, unabated fossil fuels; second, we must supercharge the deployment of the clean energy technologies that already exist today; and third, we need to make major investments to develop, demonstrate, and scale up innovative green technologies. Taking action on climate is an opportunity and not a hardship. Developing and deploying clean energy infrastructure and green technologies and responding to the climate crisis represents an incredible economic opportunity. Entire new technologies and industries will emerge, and these industries will sell to multitrillion-dollar markets. As governments, we need to invest in these industries, incentivize investment from the private sector, and create and enable the markets necessary to enable those technologies to flourish.

We certainly applaud the EU’s forward-leaning goals to address the climate crisis. The United States has announced a new target to achieve a 50-52 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, in addition to its goal of a net zero emissions economy no later than 2050. We must continue to work together in order to encourage other countries to do the same. The steps countries take this year to set the world up for success will make all the difference. To keep the vital goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach, we need to get on the right path now. The U.S. government is reentering the international stage as a leader in tackling the climate crisis. President Biden convened the Leaders Summit on Climate April 22-23 to accelerate global climate action at the highest levels of government. Additionally at the upcoming NATO Summit, President Biden will join other allied leaders to endorse a NATO climate change and security action plan. NATO must use its know-how and existing technology to support green energy and galvanize economic development. We need to work together to build a clean energy future that overcomes the threat of climate change — investing in innovation and in our people, raising our ambitions, and ensuring every nation does its part. We must take advantage of the current moment to spur more sustainable global economic growth.

I am also very proud that the United States is again becoming a key leader in Mission Innovation – a forum among the world’s largest economies to ramp up investments in clean energy research and development and share innovation roadmaps and strategies. You know, this really is a moment for all of us to build better economies in which our children, and future generations can thrive.

In which specific areas does the US want to encourage more engagement from its transatlantic partners, specifically Germany?

The United States and Germany have our work cut out for us on a number of trade issues. On May 5, Chancellor Merkel made a public statement noting a U.S.-EU Trade agreement “made a lot of sense”. We have made good progress with the EU to create an environment to resolve disputes like Large Civil Aircraft (Airbus-Boeing),
digital services taxes, and transatlantic data flows, but there is much work to be done. Other tariffs are currently under review, so we will have to wait and see what comes out on that in the coming weeks and months, but I can say that there is certainly a willingness on all sides to work on these issues. We need to resolve these longstanding matters so that together we can meet future challenges from a position of strength. This is critical to both of our economies. Germany is the world's fourth largest economy and the biggest U.S. trading partner in Europe, with total trade in goods of $187.6 billion in 2019. German foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States totaled $522 billion in 2019 and German companies account for over 800,000 U.S. jobs. U.S. companies had over $148 billion in FDI stock in Germany and employ almost 700,000 Germans.

One area for more cooperation is technology and the digital economy and is amongst the most promising areas in the Transatlantic relationship. The United States and Germany share a positive vision for technology as a force for good. Together we can lay solid foundations for our recovery and set the standards for the economy of the coming decades. What is at stake is first and foremost the need to ensure, through our shared leadership, that our common vision will prevail and that the digitalization strengthens democracy, against those who would use technology for authoritarian purposes.

Whatever differences exist between our approaches, our overarching goal remains the same: an open, free, secure, and reliable digital space and, along with likeminded partners around the world, leadership in tomorrow’s technology. This includes a joint commitment to a vibrant, diverse, and resilient supply chain of trustworthy telecommunications equipment and services. We have to ensure that as global digitalization grows, it reflects our shared values: the respect of human rights, rule of law, freedom of expression, protection and enforcement of intellectual property, data privacy, and a level playing field.

Already today, the transatlantic digital economy is at the center of the global economy. Transatlantic digital trade (trade in digitally enabled services) was worth almost $380 billion in 2019. As highlighted by the AmCham EU Transatlantic Economy 2021 report, Transatlantic economies produce 75 percent of global digital content and Transatlantic cables carry 55 percent more data than Transpacific cables. But we aren’t satisfied with the status quo. With technology, we have to run just to maintain our position. Thus, as with many areas of the Transatlantic relationship, the United States is committed to renewing our partnership, restoring our role in multilateral bodies, and raising our ambition for what the United States and the EU can achieve together.

How is the US administration processing the upcoming German federal elections? What are the main expectations for the new federal government that will be elected this fall?

I can tell you that all the world will be watching the upcoming federal elections in Germany. Regardless of who succeeds Angela Merkel as chancellor, and which parties are involved in the government, we will continue to count Germany as one of our closest allies and partners on a wide range of issues. From bolstering the unparalleled security that NATO guarantees, to leading the resurgent global economy and ensuring our own countries defeat COVID-19 as we simultaneously assist other countries of the world, we will continue to work closely with Germany and our other transatlantic allies and partners to ensure peace and prosperity.

From the US perspective, what other prospects are there to actively improve the transatlantic relations and what are the key expectations for their German partners?

We welcome ambitious thinking from Germany and the EU and member states on ways to improve transatlantic relations. The Council of the European Union’s decision on May 6 to approve U.S. participation in the Dutch-led PESCO Military Mobility project is an example of the EU and its member states’ commitment to cooperating on collective security and broad U.S. involvement in EU defense initiatives.

U.S.-EU collaboration to build joint approaches is key to improving transatlantic relations. On June 26, Deputy Secretary Sherman and European External Action Service Secretary General Sannino met in Brussels where they underscored the importance of the rules-based international order and pledged further close cooperation in areas of mutual concern. They also held the first high-level meeting of the U.S.-EU dialogue on China focused on the challenges China poses to our collective security, prosperity, and values. We recognize there are adversarial and competitive aspects to our relationships with China. At the same time, we also need to put forward a positive and affirmative vision for cooperation with China, one rooted in ideals like human rights, the rules-based international order, and our commitment to the green and digital transitions. Additionally, Deputy Secretary Sherman and Secretary General Sannino discussed the need for collaboration on security issues including Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. The United States remains unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of ongoing Russian aggression. Russia needs to fully reverse its military buildup on Ukraine’s borders and in occupied Crimea, recommit to a ceasefire at the Line of Contact, and cease its destabilizing activities throughout Ukraine. Russia is engaged in disinformation and malign influence operations aimed at undermining our democracies and dividing our societies, as demonstrated by its interference in our elections and its ongoing campaign to sow doubt about the efficacy of our COVID-19 vaccines.

While the United States and our EU partners are confronting an unprecedented array of challenges, it’s profoundly important that we do it together, and in ways that strengthen our democracies and deliver results for our peoples. Together with Germany and the EU, the United States will forge a common agenda to counter disinformation and influence operations of increasingly assertive authoritarian regimes such as Russia and the PRC, defend democracy at home and abroad, uphold human rights, and promote international peace and security. You can be assured the United States is fully determined to renew and strengthen this partnership. These efforts will foster the best possible environment for you to keep investing in the United States and in European economies, creating jobs, and promoting growth.

To sum up, all these efforts – whether on foreign policy, economic issues, or strengthening our own democracies – are a part of President Biden’s commitment to revitalize and raise the level of ambition in the transatlantic partnership. This means we are focused not only on addressing the challenges we face together, but also promoting together with our partners a positive and affirmative vision for a better, greener, more just, and more connected world.

Heather Liermann

Head of Department

Membership Engagement & Development