How can the U.S. and the E.U. find common ground on data governance, tech standards and clean technologies? How can further alignment on addressing the growing rivalry with China be fostered and turned into concrete joint policy action? What are the most important geoeconomic challenges and critical economic dependencies that transatlantic partners must address together?

On November 14 and 15, in Berlin, the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington jointly hosted the first gathering of the Transatlantic Foresight Lab’s Expert Group to discuss the questions that will define the transatlantic agenda in the coming years.

The mission of the Transatlantic Foresight Lab is to give an impetus for concrete policy proposals to implement innovative transatlantic approaches for managing critical dependencies. It is a two-part project. The first piece is a transatlantic expert group composed of representatives from think tanks, academia, and business representatives from both sides of the Atlantic.

The second is RANGE (Rethinking Assumptions in a New Geopolitical Environment), a crowd-sourced forecasting platform that provides first-hand data on various transatlantic and geopolitical policy parameters.

Identifying and overcoming economic dependencies and geoeconomic challenges

In discussing ways in which the U.S. and Europe could help to combat geoeconomic challenges, whether mitigating disrupted global supply chains, setting standards on A.I. and data privacy regulation, or gaining technological leadership in addressing climate change, the Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council (TTC) featured prominently in the debate.

Since the creation of the TTC in June 2021 – convening for the first time in September of the same year, there have been high hopes on both sides of the Atlantic. What could be achieved through the newly established forum? However, expectations have been somewhat muted ahead of the upcoming meeting on December 5 of this year, with one expert describing the council as a “toothless tiger.”

Experts spoke about how discrepancies in perceptions of the council have impaired its ability to act. While the U.S. views the TTC as a vehicle through which the transatlantic alliance can approach – or even confront – China, Brussels sees it more as a way of mitigating outstanding trade policy irritants from the previous U.S. administration.

The passing of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in August, which promotes “buying American,” has further complicated trade relations between the U.S. and the E.U. The protectionist policies of the IRA have undermined the fundamental goals of the TTC – to find greater alignment on trade and technology policy between Washington and Brussels.

Experts remarked that an increase in U.S. and European subsidies meant to rebuild and protect domestic economies could potentially hurt transatlantic trade relations further, thus dampening expectations for what the U.S. and Europe can accomplish during the December TTC session.

Currently, on RANGE, the following question is open for forecasting ahead of the December 5 TTC meeting. Start forecasting here: Will the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) cooperate on outbound investment screening measures by the time of the next ministerial meeting in December 2022?

Finding U.S.-EU alignment on digitalization, new technologies, and climate change

The degree to which the U.S. and the E.U. can find common ground on data governance, tech standards, and reducing dependencies on Chinese technology was the subject of much debate in the second session. As one expert put it, “the value of data depends on the value people attribute to it.” And thus, fundamental differences in how Europeans and Americans perceive data governance will define the challenge of enabling a free flow of data which can be deemed meaningful for international cooperation.

With respect to climate technologies, it is unclear, after the U.S. midterms, to what extent the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will hinder the Biden Administration’s ability to carry out the climate initiatives of the newly passed IRA. But as industry has realized that “the environment is the economy,” smaller adjustments are more likely than a complete rollback.

Experts further questioned whether the U.S. could modify the IRA to improve cooperation with Europe. But while U.S. officials recognize the problems that come along with IRA’s protectionist framework, larger concessions seem rather unlikely before the legislation takes effect on January 1.

Navigating the systemic rivalry with China

The transatlantic expert group agreed that the E.U. and the U.S. should find common ground regarding China – on security, trade, and technology policy. However, differences in how Washington and Brussels perceive and approach China are evident.

Furthermore, the lack of a common E.U. position makes U.S.-EU alignment more difficult. One expert remarked that while the U.S. and E.U. are starting to move in the same direction on China, the differing urgency on both sides of the Atlantic resulted in the gap in actual policy positions still growing larger.

To reduce critical dependencies on China, experts shared that while complete “decoupling” is not a realistic approach, diversifying and reducing dependencies in critical areas will help to lessen vulnerabilities. Still, it is unclear whether European governments, Germany in particular, are willing to go as far as the U.S. to restrict Chinese investments in strategic industries and deny critical components and technologies to Chinese companies.

The topic of Taiwan was also part of the discussion, as experts called for the need for respective governments to prepare in case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and what sanctions would mean for economies. While political actions are hard to foresee in this matter, public opinion from Transatlantic Trends 2022 shows that on both sides of the Atlantic, there is very little public appetite for military action in the case of an invasion, and divisions are evident within Europe on the public appetite for implementing sanctions over fears of negative economic consequences.

Forging a Common Path Forward

Despite the remaining irritants in the transatlantic relationship, as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has stated, the U.S. and Europe are currently experiencing a “transatlantic moment.” With the uncertainty surrounding the 2024 U.S. elections, there is a heightened interest among transatlanticists to seize this “transatlantic moment” and define a clear agenda to confront geoeconomic dependencies, digitalization and technology challenges, the climate crisis, and the influence of China on global affairs.

With these opportunities and challenges in mind, the transatlantic expert group will continue to convene regularly and ultimately produce policy recommendations for decision-makers in Berlin, Brussels, and Washington.

Furthermore, RANGE will continue to bring accurate, credible, and forward-looking insights to governments and the public on both sides of the Atlantic. These concrete policy proposals and insights will promote U.S. and European cooperation to better manage critical dependencies on the global stage over the next two years. We will keep you posted!

About the author

Brandon Bohrn works as a project manager for the “Europe’s Future” program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. His work centers around U.S-German affairs and transatlantic relations. Previously, he worked as a project manager for transatlantic relations with the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington.

Markus Overdiek works for the “Europe’s Future” program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. Previously, he worked for the Bertelsmann Stiftung on the projects “Ethics of Algorithms” and “Global Economic Dynamics”. He has a focus in economics, data science, digitization, and European affairs.

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Five Takeaways from Transatlantic Trends 2022: Public Opinion in Times of Geopolitical Turmoil

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Germany’s 180° Turn on Foreign and Security Policy in the Wake of Russia’s War Against Ukraine – European and Transatlantic Implications