November 2020

By Sally A. Painter


The future is bright for Transatlantic relations under the incoming Biden-Harris administration. There are high expectations for a revitalization of U.S. commitments to partner with America’s democratic allies in Europe following a contentious relationship under the Trump administration. President-Elect Biden’s foreign policy approach will reaffirm U.S. commitments to partnering with democratic allies, upholding a rules-based international order, and fostering multilateral cooperation. It will also reset the Transatlantic partnership through closer cooperation on economy, security, and climate issues as well as the promotion of liberal democratic values.

In the economic sphere, the Biden administration will seek closer economic ties with America’s European allies in two ways. First, it will reverse the Trump administration’s isolationist trade policies by eliminating tariffs placed on imports of such commodities as steel, aluminum, and autos from the European Union. Second, it will resume negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the Trump administration dropped out of in 2019. TTIP is seen as having significant potential to expand trade between the U.S. and the EU, drive growth in both economies, and support economic recovery in a post-COVID-19 era.

The Biden administration will also reaffirm U.S. commitment to the strategic NATO alliance by working closely with EU allies, including proactive measures to discourage illiberal and aggressive behavior by NATO adversaries and to engage nuclear powers in multilateral formats. The Biden administration will increase its support for Ukraine and work with NATO to impose targeted sanctions on those accused of election meddling in Europe and human rights abuses. To uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the new U.S. administration will likely invest energy into bilateral defense cooperation, upgrade Ukraine’s armed forces, provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by fighting in the country’s east, and spearhead diplomatic efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

The Biden administration may also look to cooperate more closely with the EU by imposing targeted sanctions on foreign state actors seen as engaging in efforts to undermine democratic elections among America’s allies in Europe. The proposed establishment of a 9/11-style commission tasked with investigating election meddling in the 2016 U.S. election will serve as a model for Transatlantic cooperation to target a range of bad actors. Examples of those likely to be targeted include Russian officials and business leaders implicated in election meddling and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny; Belarussian officials overseeing harsh crackdowns on protestors; and Turkish officials supporting Turkey’s wars abroad.

The Biden administration may also seek to de-escalate the threat of nuclear confrontation by rejoining the New START Nuclear treaty, the last remaining comprehensive treaty between the United States and Russia governing nuclear arms control. Such a move could lower tensions between the two countries. The Biden team will also likely seek to re-engage Iran together with European allies to negotiate a new Iran nuclear deal. The Biden approach is aimed at limiting the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear power while paving the ground for a reversal of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Cooperation to combat the climate crisis will also be a major pillar of U.S.-EU cooperation under the Biden administration. During the 2020 Presidential campaign, candidate-Biden promised that, if elected, he would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Mr. Biden also promised to reintroduce a Border Carbon Adjustment (BCA) tax designed to limit and discourage foreign countries from polluting through the export of non-environmental products to the United States. Through negotiations, the Biden administration will work with America’s EU allies to collectively limit pollution through the importation of such harmful products.

Finally, the Biden administration will take concrete steps to bolster democratic norms in the United States and Europe. Mr. Biden has promised to establish a “League of Democracies” which would support greater mobilization among like-minded countries to promote shared democratic values, counter human rights abuses, and limit the encroachment of authoritarianism. Under such a framework, the U.S. and EU could work together to combat and condemn the actions of illiberal and nationalist governments, such as those in Central and Southern Europe against their own citizens and refugees.

In sum, the incoming Biden-Harris administration’s policy on Transatlantic relations will renew and build on previous efforts from the Obama-Biden era. It will strengthen U.S.-EU cooperation across a number of spheres, focusing on economic, security, and climate issues while also establishing a framework to more assertively promote democratic values on the international stage.