As Joe Biden is sworn in as President of the United States of America, CEPA experts reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing the transatlantic community in the next four years.
2021 is the year of new beginnings. I’m an optimist at heart, and always have my head up and eyes looking forward. I think that our tradition of changing administrations and Congresses through the electoral process provides endless opportunities to keep moving forward — for new beginnings.
The tradition of peaceful transition of power in the United States is still strong. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or guaranteed. The assault on the Capitol on January 6th reminded us of this. But look beyond the awful images we all saw and notice the powerful, positive images instead: a brave policeman facing down the mob; young women staffers securing the certified electoral ballots; and the Congress which came back into their chambers that same day and finished their duty by certifying the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be our next President and Vice-President.
Our institutions are strong and the world knows it. That’s why they all look to the new administration — as I do — for positive leadership that gives the best chance for prosperity, stability, and security for all of us.
And I am glad that CEPA is right in the middle of it. I’m proud to be a part of a team that is focused on helping the new administration develop policies that ensure strong bonds with allies and partners, and that encourages the development of the next generation of leaders.
— Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair
The election of Joe Biden to the U.S. presidency surely calls for advancing a new transatlantic agenda. Yet as the days leading towards the 2021 presidential inauguration have painfully shown, no other area of cooperation will be of more importance than prioritizing the renewal and protection of our respective democracies.
Today, the United States faces complex challenges to its democratic system: polarization, a broken campaign financing system, voter disenfranchisement, and a hyper-partisan media environment — just to name a few. Most importantly, however, it has an outgoing president, who, along with millions of his supporters, refuses to respect democratic principles, and through disinformation and lies attempts to undermine the election outcome and thus the legitimacy of the entire democratic system.
Europe, too, is poisoned by growing populism, which is a reflection of public anger over issues of inequality, stagnant living standards, and challenges of cultural integration. The European continent is also witnessing some of its states seeking to weaken the rule of law and decrease freedom for media and civil society.
Renewal of democracy can no longer be treated as an internal affair of our member states. The challenges to democracy are global and are effectively exploited by our adversaries – whether it be through disinformation or corrosive business schemes and dark money. We must tackle these problems together.
There is nothing more urgent for the transatlantic alliance than getting our houses in order, while at the same time addressing the external threats that weaken our democracies. This is because the strength of our alliance lies not so much in our combined military might as in the foundations of rule of law, human rights, and democracy. Our inability to live by and protect these values will spell our demise.
— Katarzyna Pisarska, Senior Fellow
Many of us have spent months inside, isolated. We realize how much we miss what we once took for granted: friends, family, and community. We look forward to the return of these things, and we assure ourselves we will never take them for granted again. So it is with the incoming Biden administration, and out hopes for the U.S. to return to its partners, allies, and the global community.
For the past four years, at times, partners, including those in the transatlantic community, have felt confused by mixed signals. Some have been alarmed by divisive rhetoric and disinformation in the United States. Others have been disappointed by inaction or apathy. An isolationist America has been slow to act, if it acts at all. Over the past four years, the United States has withdrawn from agreements, abandoned treaties, pulled funding and support from international organizations, and abandoned allies. This has eroded trust in the United States as a partner and a credible leader in the global community.
I am hopeful that the Biden administration will renew faith in the transatlantic community and in allied partnerships. I look forward to the United States returning to the international community and helping to respond to clear and pressing global problems. COVID-19 has taught us that there are some threats we all face together, and that these are best tackled together, as a community. Like the return from isolation, the changes will be gradual, but will steadily gain momentum. Once we step forward, I hope we will not look back.
— Cordelia Buchanan Ponczek, Title VIII Fellow
The January 6th storming of the Capitol is a consequence, not only of bad leadership and disinformation, but also of a lack of confidence in our systems and institutions. The Biden administration has a lot of work ahead of it to restore this trust.
When Americans doubt the merits of liberal democracy and act in a manner contrary to our Constitution, we are in trouble. We lose our ability to criticize unaccountable and undemocratic regimes, and we lose our ability to inspire. When America bleeds, it negatively impacts on the transatlantic relationship.
The Trump Administration made it hard to have a constructive dialogue about common transatlantic values. The Biden administration will have to restore faith in American democracy and make it accountable. More importantly, now more than ever, the U.S., together with our European allies, needs to have a values discussion about what we’re defending, what we’re fighting for, and how to go about it.
Liberal democracy is what brought us together, but that ideal is rapidly deteriorating. In the absence of transatlantic consensus on clear goals, our enemies will exploit our disunity, making us more susceptible to disinformation, cyber-attacks, and political unrest.
The Dutch like to talk about “kruisbestuiving” (cross fertilization). Let’s engage in democratic kruisbestuiving to strengthen the transatlantic relationship through NATO 2030 and other initiatives.
— Leon Hartwell, Nonresident Fellow; Title VIII Fellow
In the last four years, being a transatlanticist in Europe has not been easy. Skepticism in the reliability of the United States as a trade and defense partner was on the rise, and Trump-bashing became a political routine. Quitting the Paris Agreement, the tariff wars, the harsh rhetoric on European free-riders within NATO, the withdrawal of troops from Germany—all these were contributing factors to a deteriorating atmosphere. More and more voices in Berlin, Brussels, and Paris were reiterating the message: Europe should be increasingly independent of the United States, and transatlantic ties are broken. The concept of “strategic autonomy” (practically: autonomy from the United States) became a very fashionable term in geopolitical discussions and created fierce debates. By the end of 2020, the United States' image hit a record low in countries such as Germany and France. And this public mood contributed to making some EU leaders stubborn: the EU had to prove that it walks its own path, distinct and seprate from the United States, even on issues where more cooperation would be beneficial for everyone. A case in point is the China-EU investment deal.
Today, we have a historic opportunity to repair transatlantic ties. There are many reasons to be optimistic. First, we know from polls that the United States consistently had a better image in most European countries than Trump himself. Second, as we could see in 2008, a change of American president can lead to a boost in the popularity of the United States. And third, EU leaders are bullish on the new administration. While expectations of unreliability remain, let’s hope that the next four years can make transatlanticism in the EU cool again.
— Péter Krekó, Senior Fellow
Estonia is looking ahead to Biden's America with great hope. We are looking forward to a revitalized U.S. relationship with both the EU and NATO. A strong transatlantic connection has been the cornerstone of Estonia’s security doctrine since regaining independence after the end of the Cold War.
Together, the transatlantic community can tackle some key security and technology questions, such as:
- How can we secure our democratic values in the digital realm?
- How can we make digital innovation happen?
- How can we jointly build cyber security resilience?
The incoming Biden administration has pledged to make cybersecurity “a top priority at every level of government” and various recent appointments show that Biden is determined to rebuild a national security apparatus. Having a professional and experienced administration driving the agenda on cybersecurity in the White House will greatly contribute to a robust transatlantic relationship.
— Merle Maigre, Senior Fellow
Healthy transatlantic relations are a top priority for Lithuania. The President of Lithuania has emphasized that NATO, participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, and in the EU Green Deal will remain the focus of the country’s foreign policy. Having a partner in Washington once more will be a welcome change.
Lithuania is ready to continue and enhance its active cooperation in defense, and would welcome the stationing of U.S. troops in the Baltic States on a permanent basis. Furthermore, Lithuania has always been active in consolidating democracy in the region. Recently, the EU Eastern Partnership program has been lacking momentum. The U.S. ought to help EU Eastern Partners on their path to democracy and reforms. The Biden administration could use the Baltic States’ expertise in promoting democracy worldwide.
Europe‘s experience is a sad testimony that unchallenged aggression invites further aggression. The spirit of transatlantic cooperation should unite all like-minded nations, especially in Europe, to strengthen a common front against influences seeking to undermine our democratic processes. It's vital for our healthy democratic partnerships to flourish. I am optimistic that they will.
— Dalia Bankauskaitė, Fellow
Joe Biden believes in working with allies to solve problems. Therefore, there is a chance to build a constructive transatlantic relationship tackling common challenges like China, Iran, and Turkey, but also crucially Russia and its neighborhood. For the latter part of the world, American and European interests and values are aligned.
On Belarus, for example, the United States, the EU, and the UK should work together in telling Russia that outside intervention will have serious repercussions. They should also maintain pressure on Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime to enter into serious dialogue with the opposition. At the same time, these allies should concentrate their efforts in supporting civil society in Belarus through various democracy-building programs, such as helping civil society to organize and carry out political campaigns, formulate policy proposals to debate the future of Belarus, and hold the government to account.
President Biden’s idea to convene a summit of democracies is promising. It could help develop common policies on a range of issues, including on how to approach Russia and its troubled near-abroad.
— Katia Glod, Fellow
The insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob incited by the President of the United States on January 6th was a shocking, embarrassing, and dangerous moment in our history. We can hope that this tragedy marks the nadir of the White House’s failure to lead by the power of its example in support of liberal democratic norms worldwide. With the inauguration of Joe Biden this week, I am hopeful and confident that the next administration can restore American leadership on the world stage, both by addressing political, economic, and racial divisions here at home, and by leading the fight against creeping authoritarianism abroad.
This challenge is more pressing than ever. Moscow and Beijing continue to pose a growing number of hybrid threats to the transatlantic community aimed at degrading the primacy of liberal democratic states worldwide. A key area that Washington and Brussels must jointly address is the trend of authoritarian regimes weaponizing critical infrastructure investments, economic deals, and emerging technologies to project strategic corruption and elite capture in the West.
Given the technical basis across each of these types of investment, it is vital that we develop multidisciplinary policy responses that include pairing traditional economic and political analysis with the use of science and technology analysis to better understand the true nature of these threats and to develop countermeasures. It is more important than ever for Washington to rally a transatlantic coalition of officials and experts of diverse background and disciplinary focus – including moving science and technology to the center of our collective foreign policy and national security process. And I’m confident that by broadening the aperture of our response and through collective commitment, the United States and Europe can rise to the challenges of the next four years.
— Benjamin L. Schmitt, Senior Fellow
January 20, 2021