The Pandemic and the Toll of Transatlantic Discord
At a Time of Crisis, the U.S.-European Relationship Can—and Must—Be Saved
As if anyone needed another reminder of fraying transatlantic ties, the novel coronavirus pandemic has made abundantly clear just how bad relations between the United States and Europe have become. After years of mutual grievance—over defense spending, trade, and much more—divergent national responses to this latest crisis have brought new sources of tension and complaint. In the face of medical-supply shortages, both the United States and Europe have turned inward. Washington ordered the 3M company to halt its exports of N95 masks and to reroute its overseas production to the United States as part of a broader effort to meet domestic demand, loosening restrictions only in the face of a vocal backlash. The European Union banned the export of face shields, gloves, masks, and protective garments for the same reason. These beggar-thy-neighbor policies threaten to make the virus’s toll even worse. U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral transatlantic travel ban also sparked anger among European leaders, who lamented the United States’ failure to consult with them first.
Yet the pandemic should make another reality equally clear: transatlantic cooperation is essential to finding effective solutions to shared challenges—for the United States and Europe, and for the world. Accordingly, even as the pandemic has spawned the latest round of transatlantic grievance, it can—and should—also provide countries a needed spur to move beyond ongoing disputes and focus on a new transatlantic project: forging cooperative responses to the pandemic. Crisis brings opportunity, to both develop more effective policies and build a renewed sense of transatlantic solidarity that can last through this emergency and beyond.