The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the “AUKUS” deal between the U.S., Australia and the UK are being described by some as a "wake-up call for Europe".
There is a growing feeling in Europe – and I say this with regret – that something is broken in our trans-Atlantic relations.
A partnership works when both parties are honest and truthful with each other. When both parties treat each other with respect. When both partners are strong. When there is trust.
But trust is not a given. And after the latest events, there is a strong perception that trust between the EU and U.S. has been eroded.
So it is probably time to pause and reset our EU-U.S. relationship.
Fighting the global pandemic
Since the beginning of COVID-19, we have learnt the hard way that no single country – in fact, no single continent – can fight a global pandemic alone.
Today, the EU and U.S. account for more than half of all vaccine doses produced and delivered around the world, and almost all mRNA vaccines. If global manufacturing capacity skyrocketed, it is thanks to our two continents.
Yesterday’s decision to lift the U.S. travel ban on fully vaccinated Europeans is a welcome – but logical – decision given the success of the vaccination campaign in the EU.
In fighting the pandemic, Europe has lived up to its responsibilities. Large amounts of vaccine precursor material have been shipped from the EU to the U.S., allowing the U.S. to boost its vaccine production. And more importantly, the EU has exported half of its production – more than 750 million doses – to countries around the world.
Now, if I may be frank, when the U.S. government deployed the Defence Production Act earlier this year, it created concrete tensions among EU-based vaccine producers regarding the availability of and access to key materials.
It is only once the EU put forward our export authorisation scheme, that we were able to engage back with the U.S. in a frank and operational dialogue to unblock supply chains, ingredient by ingredient, product by product, producer by producer.
We will continue working with the U.S. on securing vaccine production. In this vein, yesterday we marked the first official meeting of the Joint Task Force on COVID-19 manufacturing supply chains.
Because, although we have made the world safer, let’s not forget that the EU and U.S. only represent 10% of the world’s population.
To eradicate the virus and its variants, we need to sustain these efforts not only for ourselves but also for the rest of the world. That means continuing to export, and helping other continents develop their own production facilities, so that we accelerate the pace of global vaccination.
Investing in technological leadership
Revisiting our supply chains, avoiding vulnerabilities, making the right investments for our citizens – this must also be done in new technologies, where the EU and the U.S. share common dependencies on third countries.
Take semiconductors, where technology and geopolitics are increasingly hard to separate.
Global shortage is affecting many industrial sectors across the globe and therefore the daily life of our citizens.
Today 80% of global semiconductor production is located in Asia (mostly in Taiwan), while Europe and the U.S. hold 10% each.
We therefore need to retake control and rebalance the global supply chain of semiconductors.
Last week, President von der Leyen announced the launch of a European Chips Act, which aims to turn our scientific and research excellence and untapped capacities into industrial leadership.
Those who think this is just about rivalling the U.S. are wrong. It is about technological sovereignty, about having enough autonomy to make the right choices for Europe.
To do this, we must strengthen our industrial capacity in Europe.
It is not a question of wanting to produce everything we need in Europe. We need to diversify our supply chains in order to decrease overdependence on a single country or region.
And while the EU aims to remain the top global destination of foreign investment, we also need to make our local production more resilient and preserve Europe’s security of supply.
I spoke earlier about how a successful partnership requires both parties being strong. Well, let me be clear: in a world of growing uncertainty, it is in America’s best interest to have a strong and sovereign Europe as partner.
Partnerships are built by combining respective strengths
Partnerships are built by combining respective strengths. For now, on several tech issues, including semiconductors, I see exactly where Europe’s strengths lie, our added value. I have yet to understand what the U.S. would bring to the table.
Despite what some may think or wish, this discussion is not about a classical trade negotiation with “gives” and “takes”. It’s about our future industrial position. Europe has to – and will – carefully assess its interests, also in the light of the new geopolitical realities.
A common endeavour for a safe and fair digital space
Let me turn to our common challenges in regulating the the digital space.
Events on both sides of the Atlantic have exposed the fragility of our democracies — and the threat that underregulated tech companies can pose to their survival through the spread of disinformation or hate speech.
I think we are at a moment now where the EU and the U.S. have an opportunity to establish global standards for balanced digital regulation that counters illiberal practices.
Europe is doing its fair share. We are moving first and fast: with the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act, we want to ensure a safe, fair, competitive and innovative digital economy.
These objectives stem from the same principles and values that the U.S. cherish: free speech, consumer protection, safety of minors, open markets and the rule of law.
Obviously, upholding these common values in the digital space also means stepping up our game on cybersecurity. Here again, none of us can do this alone.
The EU and the U.S. face the same cybersecurity threats.
We must therefore unite our efforts, in particular to combat ransomware, to improve cybersecurity information sharing and supply chain security, including 5G and critical ICT supply chains such as data and cloud.
These technologies will be essential to our safety, prosperity and resilience in the years to come.
No one is the centre of the Planet. Cooperation is key
The pandemic, the technological race, ongoing conflicts: times are volatile. No one is the centre of the Planet. So cooperation is key.
The European Union will remain open, but on terms and conditions we set ourselves, protecting Europe’s strategic interests such as our security of supply.
This is also true in the field of security and defence.
I firmly believe that a common defence for Europe is the way forward. It is not about rejecting our historical alliances. On the contrary. It is about being able to act on our own when needed, when these alliances are not ready or able to act.
Be it on industrial production, technology or defence, strategic autonomy is about ensuring Europe’s freedom and capacity to act.
It can only strengthen our ties and our common endeavour to create a better world.