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New US president: How EU-US relations could improve 

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Joe Biden becoming the new US president is a chance to reset transatlantic relations ©Angela Weiss/AFP  

A new US president taking office represents an opportunity to reset transatlantic relations. Find out what the EU is offering to work together on. Europe and America have traditionally always been allies, but under Donald Trump the US has been acting more unilaterally, withdrawing from treaties and international organizations.

With Joe Biden (pictured) set to take over the reins from 20 January, the EU sees it as an opportunity to relaunch co-operation.

On 2 December 2020, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a new transatlantic agenda allowing the partners to work together on a variety of issues. The Council also reaffirmed the importance of the partnership in its conclusions on 7 December. Parliament is also looking forward to closer cooperation. On 7 November, Parliament President David Sassoli tweeted: “The world needs a strong relationship between Europe and the US - especially in these difficult times. We look forward to working together to fight COVID-19, climate change, and address rising inequality.”

Both the US and the EU have much to gain from closer ties, but many challenges and differences remain.

Coronavirus

Although COVID-19 poses a global threat, Trump still opted to withdraw the US from the World Health Organization. The EU and the US could join forces on funding the development and distribution of vaccines, test and treatment as well as working on prevention, preparedness and response.

Climate change

Together the EU and the US could push for ambitious agreements at this year’s UN Summits on Climate and Biodiversity, cooperate on developing green technologies and jointly design a global regulatory framework for sustainable finance.

Technology, trade and standards

From genetically modified food to beef treated with hormones, the EU and the US have had their share of trade disputes. However, both have much to gain from removing barriers. In 2018 Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium, which led to the EU to impose tariffs on American products. Biden coming in as president is another chance for constructive talks.

The EU and the US could also collaborate on reforming the World Trade Organisation, protecting critical technologies and deciding new regulations and standards. The US is currently blocking the dispute resolution mechanisms established under the organization.

The Commission has also offered cooperation on challenges linked to digitalisation, such as fair taxation and market distortions. As a lot of leading digital companies are American, the issue of how to tax them could be sensitive.

Foreign affairs

The EU and the US also share a commitment to promoting democracy and human rights. Together they could work on strengthening the multilateral system. However, in some cases they disagree on the best way to proceed.

They both face the challenge of finding the best way to deal with China. Under Trump the US has been a lot more confrontational, while the EU focussed more on diplomacy. In December 2020 EU negotiators agreed a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China. The deal is currently being scrutinised by the Parliament. Its consent is needed for it to enter into force. The new American leadership represents an opportunity to coordinate their approaches more and better.

Iran is another topic on which the EU and the US have taken different approaches. Both the US and the EU were involved with the Iran nuclear agreement to avoid the country being able to pursue a nuclear weapon until Trump withdrew the US from it in 2018. The start of a new US president could be an occasion for a common approach.

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

Catherine Feore

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

Reuters

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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