On Thursday, June 10th 2021, the Institut Aspen France and EY had the pleasure of welcoming Daniel Schwarzer, Executive Director for Europe and Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations, for a conversation on “The battle of giants between the United States and China : What role and place for Europe ?”
In this context of heightened systemic competition between the United States and China, the participants noted that Europe is currently lagging. Faced with a weakened leadership position on the global stage, the volatility of its historical ally the United States, internal democratic dysfunctions, and China’s agenda to act as transformative power, the continent needs to focus both on domestic and the international issues in order to solidify its position, and uphold its democratic, liberal and rule-based principle.
In this context, Europe needs to build resilient capabilities and impose itself as a strong regulatory power, by increasing European cooperation, using synergies, and mobilizing the European single market. This willingness to cooperate can be extended to countries like Japan and South Korea. A key example presented during the conference was the Tech Agenda. Europe has showed itself to be a relevant player when it comes to standard-setting, thanks to its attachment to data protection and user privacy. This position lays the base for a stronger global influence.
In order to position itself on the global stage, and no matter who wins this battle of giants, Europe must meaningfully engage with other players, in particular in the Indo-Pacific region. It can be done by positioning itself as a relevant regulatory power, adopting a cohesive and nuanced approach to its relationship with China, tackling internal democratic backsliding, and more broadly managing to speak with one voice and craft cohesive, comprehensive foreign policy strategies towards regional players like Russia and other relevant states.
The conversation touched on current threats to democracy, and highlighted the strong focus placed by President Biden on democracy. Biden’s administration will work on strengthening and solidifying America’s democracy, while maintaining global ambitions. A joint effort of democracies would be helpful in determining current threats to democratic institutions, such as interference from autocratic powers and the ongoing backsliding in European democracies. This collaborative effort will help prevent the erosion of European principles. However, this alliance of democracy will not be able to provide answers to all contemporary problems, in particular when it comes to climate and health crises. Hence the need to craft a cohesive and strategic relationship with all relevant players, China, India and Gulf states, with Europe acting as the middle ground.
As far as rebuilding trust between the United States and Europe, skepticism remains, and what remains to be determined is whether Europe will be able to speak with one voice. To this day, the country that has managed to single itself out is the United Kingdom. The Union has put forward a first strategy paper regarding the transatlantic relationship, and national governments now need to step up. The participants noted that with the campaign and elections in Germany, the country will retreat from the global stage, opening the stage to any other European country, such as France, to rebuild a relationship with the US.
The participants then moved on to discuss the upcoming leadership change in the German chancellery, and the question that it poses with respect to Germany’s leadership in Europe and the new orientation that it might follow. Were the Christian Democrats to be elected, there would a certain continuity in Germany’s European politics, although the current front runner is not excluding the need for change, and seems to be open to a more integrated European financial policy. As for the Greens, it seems that the party is more radical in the change that it envisions for German politics, and European policies, in particular in respect to the Green New Deal and human rights. This radicality would probably be hindered and quelled once in power due to structural constraints: changing the deep interdependence on which the structure is based will not happen overnight.
Daniela Schwarzer is the Open Society Foundations’ executive director for Europe and Eurasia. Schwarzer is a renowned expert in European affairs and international relations. Since 2016, she has served as director and CEO of the German Council on Foreign Relations, where she has steered the organization’s strategic repositioning and modernization and has advised the EU Commission and national governments on European affairs. She is an honorary professor of political science at Freie Universität Berlin and a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Prior to leading the German Council on Foreign Relations, Schwarzer was a member of the executive team of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, where she served as its senior director of research, as well as heading its Berlin office and Europe program from 2013 to 2016. Schwarzer also spent eight years at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, where she led the European integration department from 2008 to 2013.