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US Election 2020 Media Library

"The West must finally return to its senses on trade"

Interview with Peter Beyer, Member of the German Bundestag (CDU/CSU) and Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation of the German Federal Government

Shortly after the U.S. Presidential Election 2020, AmCham Germany took the opportunity to talk with Peter Beyer, Member of the German Bundestag (CDU/CSU), about the status of transatlantic relations, the road ahead under the Biden Administration as well as challenges and opportunites for Europe and the U.S. in the fields of trade, digitalization and security and defense. Beyer has been a Member of the German Bundestag since 2009 and also serves as the Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation of the German Federal Government - a post he has held since April 2018.


After the election of Joe Biden, many in the transatlantic arena are speaking of a restart in European-American relations. What can the Federal Government do in particular to strengthen German-American relations under the next U.S. administration?

Without wanting to sound too euphoric, Joe Biden’s election as the 46th U.S. president presents an opportunity for Germany and Europe. Biden and his foreign policy team view the world through an international and Europe-friendly lens – not a nationalistic and isolationist one. They understand that the only way for the U.S. to safeguard its power and prosperity is to have strong allies and exert global influence in international organizations. As for us: Germany must act both as a leader and partner within Europe. What this means for the Federal Government is assuming greater responsibility – and living up to our role as the most populous and economically powerful country in the heart of Europe, without forgetting our historical responsibility of course. For one thing, we must do our homework in terms of security policy. First of all, we need to invest more in our security architecture – which is to say, we need more money for the Bundeswehr. We owe this to our own citizens and to our international partners – there is simply no such thing as security on the cheap. We have committed to NATO’s two-percent target and have done a great deal in recent years, but even more is needed. Second, I emphatically support an overhaul of our foreign and security policy architecture. Specifically, I believe we should establish a national security council in which foreign, security and economic policy are more closely integrated, empowering Germany to act more efficiently and forcefully. After the 9/11 attacks and the financial crisis, the COVID‑19 pandemic – a health and economic crisis in one – is the third great upheaval to hit the 21st century, barely two decades in. We must expect further crises to follow. Geo-economics are set to play an increasingly significant role going forward. Germany and Europe must present a strong front and act decisively on the international stage in order to be accepted by the U.S. as a partner on equal footing. Facing up to the challenges of the future is something we can only succeed in together. In short: it’s about shaping the West. What is more, as Biden’s age means he is only likely to remain in office for four years and we cannot know who will succeed him, we only have a few years in which to forge a New West. This is both an opportunity and a responsibility. Germany and Europe must do more.


One of the most important topics for our members is trade. While political will for a transatlantic free trade agreement has waned on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years, where do you still see potential for consensus in transatlantic trade policies and a reduction in trading barriers?

I don’t want to dwell too long on the past, but allowing TTIP to fail was an egregious error. What we need now are renewed and vigorous efforts toward a comprehensive and purposeful free trade agreement between the EU and the U.S. Past proposals for an industrial tariff agreement are not enough. We must aim much higher. This will by no means be easy. Biden ran on the slogan “Buy American.” Once inaugurated, he will examine the economic situation in his country and draw conclusions about its competitiveness. We must nevertheless fight for a free trade agreement if we want to safeguard our prosperity and jobs in the future. The very least we must aim for is a swift end to punitive tariffs and extraterritorial U.S. sanctions. It makes little sense for fellow NATO members bound by shared values of freedom and democracy to trade blows in the form of punitive tariffs. This helps no one but China and Russia. At the same time, we must be realistic, and cannot expect the removal of trade barriers and sanctions to rank too highly on the new U.S. administration’s agenda. We have to be insistent. In concrete terms, I think it would be a relatively simple matter to reach a consensus on the removal of bureaucratic obstacles affecting international supply chains to facilitate cooperation in the fight against the COVID‑19 pandemic. This would pave the way for more effective scientific and logistical cooperation in researching and distributing a vaccine, for example. Moreover, I envisage significantly closer coordination regarding the allocation of subsidies so as to prevent the escalation of conflicts like the ones that arose over Airbus and Boeing. The West must finally return to its senses on trade.


In mid-November, fifteen countries in Asia and the Pacific signed the world’s newest trade deal: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In light of shifting geopolitical dynamics and the increasing importance of China, how should Europe and the U.S. approach the Asia-Pacific realm?

RCEP should be a clear warning to us: the West must not fall behind China. It is downright embarrassing that TTIP came to nothing, while Asian and Pacific states, some of them systemic rivals, have succeeded in negotiating an agreement. While it is important not to overstate the significance of RCEP – not least as the agreement does very little in terms of defining common standards – complacency is not an option. We must seize the opportunity and make common cause with the U.S. if we are to prevent a further decline of the West’s power to China’s benefit. We are in the early stages of a new cold war between the U.S. and China. Whereas this comparison is of course not entirely apt, Washington’s rivalry with Beijing will dominate the 21st century in the same way that its rivalry with Moscow dominated the second half of the 20th. As a democracy, we should decide which side we are on. I am troubled by the naive attitudes sometimes still displayed toward Beijing on matters such as 5G or critical infrastructure. Under no circumstances must the Chinese company Huawei, which is ultimately controlled by the Communist Party in Beijing, be allowed to install hardware in our 5G network. If we do not protect our most important and sensitive data with a view to safeguarding our economic and military independence, as well as the independence of our intelligence services, we will become an easy prey for China. This is no dystopia from a George Orwell or Philip K. Dick novel. It could soon be a reality. I do not agree with every aspect of the “tough on China” policy pursued in the U.S. by Democrats and Republicans alike. For Europe, a complete decoupling will hardly be possible. But we cannot afford to make life so easy for Beijing in the pursuit of its ambitious agenda. With regard to business and trade, for example, China must play by international rules and standards, stop abusing the WTO system for its own ends, and ensure full reciprocity and non-discriminatory market access – or face severe consequences.


Switching gears to the topic of security and defense: How do you see the future of transatlantic defense cooperation under the new U.S. administration? 

NATO is neither obsolete (Trump) nor brain-dead (Macron). It is the most successful military alliance of all time. The security that many thousands of U.S. soldiers on German soil have played a part in maintaining in recent decades has been and remains crucial to our freedom, democracy and prosperity. To this day, the U.S. nuclear protective shield continues to protect Western and Central Europe against potential attacks by the Russian Federation, whose intermediate-range missiles are all targeted at us. The criticism of NATO by U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron was not warranted, but it nevertheless serves an important function: this issue has now returned to the top of the agenda, and the alliance’s strategic direction is the subject of renewed focus. We are likely to see a division of labor within NATO. Germany and the EU must engage even more closely with the crises at the edges of our continent – which right now means in the Middle East, in Libya and on the issue of migration. The U.S. will increasingly have to occupy itself with the Pacific region – a task that is becoming all the more urgent in light of China’s ascent. For us, this means that more than ever we must liaise closely and work with the U.S. and Canada in pursuit of strategic goals. In the long term, the Bundeswehr will also take on tasks in the South China Sea, albeit on a comparatively small scale. This is a good thing: we Germans and Europeans must learn to see and think in more global terms.


Lastly, looking into the future, one of the most important issues ensuring our mutual competitiveness is digital transformation. That being said, how can the EU and the U.S. find common ground in the areas of data protection, data storage, and digital sovereignty?

This is absolutely crucial. Achieving it will definitely not be easy. This is an area in which Europe and the U.S. have somewhat different mentalities. We must make it clear to our partners in the U.S. just how important these issues are to us. This includes standards for artificial intelligence and bioengineering, which are no longer distant scenarios or castles in the sky, but emerging technologies that will define the course of this century. The West must adopt a common approach to dealing with them. But it is not just regulations I am concerned about: when it comes to the digital transformation, Germany and Europe are behind the curve. This is a threat to our security and economic success. If we fall behind here, a few decades from now Germany and Europe will find their influence severely diminished. Accordingly, I believe a follow-on agreement to the Privacy Shield framework providing legal certainty is urgently needed, so that companies can once again safely exchange data in the very near future. Intensive transatlantic negotiations to this end are currently under way. Ideally, in the next few years we will also succeed in creating a transatlantic data space. The digital transformation is an economic and social revolution on a par with the industrial revolution. China allowed the industrial revolution to pass it by, and the resulting loss of influence remains a profound trauma for Beijing to this day. Europe must not miss out on the digital revolution in the same way. If it does, 40 or 50 years from now we will be little more than a plaything of the dominant (technological) superpowers of the new era. It is still not too late. I emphatically welcome the ambitious Franco-German project Gaia‑X devoted to establishing a European data cloud. As with trade, security, climate, health and research, when it comes to the digital transformation Europe and the U.S. have by no means exhausted all avenues for cooperation. Our fate is in our hands: close cooperation in a spirit of mutual trust is the only way to secure Europe and North America’s future freedom and prosperity.

Thank you, Mr. Beyer!