Blog Post

A Transatlantic Agenda for the Biden Era

January 14, 2021
4 min read
Photo Credit: Perfect 5hot / Shutterstock

The United States and the countries of Europe face challenges that threaten their way of life: a cata­strophic pandemic, a deep economic recession, accelerating climate change, a rising and increasingly authoritarian China, growing techno­logical competition, and emerging security threats. These issues transcend national borders. They cannot be successfully dealt with alone. They can only be resolved through concerted, cooper­ative international action.

The start of the Biden administration affords the United States and Europe the opportunity to begin a new era of transatlantic cooperation to safeguard and enhance the lives of Americans and Europeans by addressing these challenges together. By working together effectively, governments on both sides of the Atlantic can demonstrate to their citizens—many of whom have grown disenchanted with transatlantic cooperation—that democracies can deliver solutions on issues of vital public concern.

To address these challenges, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung convened a task force of 14 Americans and Europeans, which was co-chaired by Dr. Karen Donfried, GMF president, and Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference. The task force deliberations were supplemented by interviews with more than 150 European and American thought leaders. Bruce Stokes served as the Task Force executive director and author of the final report.

“In 2021,” commented Ambassador Ischinger, “the transatlantic community will continue to face numerous serious challenges, but they also have a huge opportunity to come together again in demonstrating value-based leadership. This Task Force report offers concrete suggestions to the incoming administration on a wide range of key strategic issues.”

The following are recommendations drawn from the Task Force effort. Some will lack bipartisan support in the United States. Others will not appeal to all Europeans. But they are promising and timely initiatives that President Joe Biden and European leaders can pursue together in 2021.

The full Task Force report is available at:

Coping with Covid-19 and Future Pandemics

  • Create a Transatlantic Stockpile of Medical Supplies: Regularly report on transatlantic production capacity, output, domestic demand, and create a joint stockpile of medical supplies to respond to future emergencies.

  • Jointly Prepare for the Next Pandemic: Establish joint rapid-response medical teams to help contain new virus outbreaks and lead an international effort for national commitments to the “responsibility to report” virus outbreaks to enhance transparency.

Enhance Economic Transformation and Revival

  • Boost the Transatlantic Digital Market: Pursue comparable regulation, including coordinated anti-trust enforcement, given the transformative opportunities offered by digital technologies. As a priority, renegotiate the invalidated U.S.-EU Privacy Shield to ensure protection of citizens’ data without unduly inhib­iting the digital economy. And quickly resolve the dispute over digital taxation.

  • Revive the World Trade Organization: Reform the dispute-settlement mechanism, with shorter deadlines for rulings and a higher standard of review to limit appeals; agree on acceptable defensive trade remedies; launch new plurilateral agreements.

Slow Climate Change

  • Strengthen Paris Agreement Climate Commitments: At COP-26 in November 2021 boost commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement to ensure the achievement of net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

  • Build Climate Resilience into Economic Recovery: Commit a significant portion of economic-recovery funding to climate mitigation/adaptation; boost investment in renewable technologies; cut and eventually eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies; develop a common approach to taxation of carbon emissions and to border-price adjustments to avoid trade frictions.

Deal with China

  • Pursue Reciprocity in Economic Relations with China: Agree to reciprocity of opportunity as the organizing principle in dealings with China on market access, investment, and protection of intellectual property.

  • Create a Vice-Presidential-Level China Working Group: Upgrade the recently created transatlantic China forum to one chaired by the U.S. vice pres­ident and comparable officials in Europe, and include cabinet officers, to share intelligence and planning for challenges posed by China.

Reclaim Technological Leadership

  • Jointly Support Pre-Competitive Emerging Technology R&D: Provide financial and regulatory incentives for emerging technologies—such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and successor generations of telecommunications technology, quantum information systems, robotics, battery storage, synthetic biology—and target tax incentives and investment to promote linkages between U.S. and European regional technology clusters.

  • Create Legal and Ethical Standards on Emerging Technologies: Develop ethical and legal norms on artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and other new tech­nologies that promise advances in health, energy, and food production, but also raise questions about consumer safety, ecological stability, and privacy.

Strengthen Security in a Shared Threat Environment

  • Emphasize Defense Modernization: Avoid fighting over the 2 percent defense spending target, and invest in research and development, force levels, readiness, and infrastructure to ensure NATO provides deterrence and defense against Russia and crisis response on its southern flank. The United States should maintain a robust mili­tary presence in Europe.

  • Develop a Joint Approach to Russia and Reengage with Iran: Establish the param­eters, goals, and timing of any mutual reengagement with Russia. Clearly articulate the preconditions Moscow needs to meet to justify reengagement. The United States should rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action if Iran comes into full compliance with the original agreement. Separately, begin talks with Tehran on missiles, counterterrorism, deconfliction, and human rights.

  • Jointly Combat Cyberattacks: Develop new doctrines and technologies to combat cyberattacks, with specific emphasis on cyber defensive and offensive operations, and cooperate in countering malign foreign interference in democracy.