EU proposal marking a new chapter

Dec 3, 2020

The European Union has reacted with uncharacteristic speed to US president-elect Joe Biden’s call for a revived and enhanced transatlantic relationship by circulating to the 27 member leaders and European parliamentarians a draft plan for a comprehensive new alliance. It is the second major initiative by the impressive German-born president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

The draft plan, reported in Monday’s edition of the Financial Times, whose Brussels reporters had obtained a copy of the document, said it provided a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity for the EU and other democracies to reset and rebuild relationships with the United States following the tensions of the Trump era and strategic challenges posed by China.

As I reported earlier this month, most of Europe’s leaders were praying for a Biden victory and the appointment of a pro-Europe Tony Blinken as secretary of state. The European Commission expresses its official reaction this way: “The EU-US partnership needs maintenance and renewal if the democratic world is to assert its interests against authoritarian powers and closed economies”.

The 11-page document does not appear to be a PR exercise. The FT reports that it contains a detailed set of practical proposals under the heading “a new agenda for global change”. Controversially, one includes “burying” the hatchet between Washington and Brussels over the proposed imposition of a super tax on Silicon Valley’s IT giants.

Although the document is specifically devoted to transatlantic relations and does not appear to mention Australia or New Zealand, it will clearly be welcomed in Canberra and Wellington, particularly by Scott Morrison, whose government seems to have been singled out by Beijing for harsh treatment.

I understand Australia’s support for the EU initiative will be welcome, and the Commission strongly backs Biden’s proposed summit of the democracies next year which will include South Pacific leaders as well as those from ASEAN, Japan, and South Korea.

It is not clear where Britain stands within the EU proposal. London and Brussels are in the final week of negotiations over a limited trade deal, with the British more concerned about fishing rights than world affairs.

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