Until recently, Russian and Chinese influence across Europe generally reflected their distinct strategic aims. But their interests increasingly converge. Common to both Vladimir Putin’s and Xi Jinping’s strategies is the decoupling of the United States and Europe. Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic will have to act in concert – and fast – to forestall an even greater corrosion of the democratic norms that have kept the peace – or helped restore it, in the case of the wars in the former Yugoslavia – for three-quarters of a century.
In the coming decades, sub-Saharan Africa will grow increasingly important to both the U.S. and Europe. Its growing population and proximity to Europe make that fact undeniable. Chinese political and economic inroads may be irreversible. Yet, by working together, the U.S. and Europe do have the ability to create the space for African governments and their people to have a viable alternative strategic direction. Such an undertaking not only would benefit Africa, but would put a much-needed item of converging interest on the transatlantic agenda.
The Western Balkans was thrown into an existential political crisis after France blocked Albania’s and North Macedonia’s negotiations for European Union accession late last year. The significance of this hold on EU expansion should not be underestimated. Membership in the bloc was the overarching social and political goal of the region’s six countries for almost two decades. The resultant vacuum is being filled by authoritarian adversaries. Building on Britain’s recent re-engagement in the region, the time is now for a new U.S.-U.K. partnership in the Western Balkans.
As of October 2019, the European Union enlargement process officially came to a standstill. Led by France, a small group of Member States blocked Albania’s and North Macedonia’s accession talks. Despite vocal protests from EU President Donald Tusk and Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker, consensus on the question of enlargement will be elusive for the near future. Current uncertainties in German politics only exacerbates the divergence.
Meanwhile, Beijing and Moscow are rapidly taking advantage of the growing power vacuum left by Western disunity and neglect. Russia ardently seeks to destabilize the Western Balkans, thereby preventing further integration into transatlantic and European institutions. China strives to cement a beachhead in Europe’s southeast where it aims to consolidate politico-economic influence and expand it throughout the continent. Unchecked, their anti-democratic, malign interventions will eventually culminate in our adversaries’ intractability from a perpetually insecure and institutionally corrupt Southeastern Europe.
Anniversaries and new years are always a good time to take stock of one’s blessings and make favorable resolutions for the months to come. At the start of 2020 and a new decade, the transatlantic relationship is changing, but it remains as indispensable as ever.
In Brussels a new European Commission, led by President Ursula von der Leyen, is beginning to hit its stride. In Washington, attention is turning toward the elections coming in the fall. Amid all this, officials on both sides of the Atlantic should take the time to make one key resolution for the year ahead: The U.S. and Europe will not make each other into strategic competitors.
It is obvious where the impetus for the new European Commission to spend €100 billion on “European Champions” through the European Future Fund comes from. Europeans are at the end of their tether with President Trump and U.S. threats to impose tariffs on imports from the E.U.
Industrial policy, furthermore, seems to be regaining its intellectual legitimacy on the political left and right. Why should scruples hold Europeans back in the global economic competition?