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COSAC hopes for improved transatlantic relations

The election of Joe Biden as the next President of the United States was met with relief amongst European policymakers in the national parliaments and in the European Parliament. This became clear during a debate on the subject of a “restart for transatlantic relations” during the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) on 30 November 2020. There was a consensus that Joe Biden as President provided grounds for optimism in terms of more multilateralism, reliability and improved transatlantic relations.  Likewise, there was agreement that Europe must enter into a new partnership with the USA with a unified and strengthened stance.   

Dimitris Kairidis, vice-chair of the Committee on European Affairs at the Greek parliament, said that there would be no return to the time before Donald Trump’s term of office, stressing the need for Europe to emancipate itself. Belgian parliamentarian Mark Demesmaeker expressed the view that unilateral leadership by the USA was no longer in line with the times.  He emphasised the necessity of the EU seizing the historic opportunity to achieve strategic autonomy. 

European Parliament Vice-President Dita Charanzová: new wind in the sails of transatlantic relations 

Vice-President of the European Parliament Dita Charanzová spoke of a “new wind blowing in the sails of our transatlantic relations” as a result of Biden’s election. She spoke of the opportunity presented by the changeover in the White House to revive cooperation, which was, she said, today needed “more than ever before”. She made it clear that the European Parliament would play a strong role in the building of new alliances. European Parliament President David-Maria Sassoli had already invited Joe Biden to address the European Parliament, she said.  

Satu Hassi, chair of the Grand Committee at the Finnish parliament, viewed the predictability to be expected of US policy in the future as positive. This would also ensure an end to the “eroding of international cooperation” In Ms Hassi’s opinion, the most significant piece of news was the commitment expressed by the future US President to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Election observer Reinhold Lopatka: US elections were conducted fairly 

Reinhold Lopatka, chair of the EU Sub-Committee at the Austrian National Council, had visited the USA as an election observer. He reported that the elections had been conducted fairly and produced a clear outcome. He spoke of the two rays of hope he currently saw; namely the Covid-19-vaccine and the US election results. 

Domagoj Milošević, from the Croatian parliament, expressed his hope that the new US Administration would be prepared to cooperate closely on creating a level playing field with Chinese companies. He stressed that small and medium-sized enterprises from Europe faced particular difficulties in competing with Chinese companies, which were subsidised by the state and need pay no heed to rules on data protection or workers’ rights. 

Joint strategy to combat unfair competition

The demand made by Alessandro Giglio Vigna from the Italian Chamber of Deputies was in the same vein: that the EU and USA should pursue a joint strategy within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in order to counter unfair competition.   

Despite the relief expressed, there were also warnings against excessive optimism. Belgian parliamentarian Mark Demesmaeker pointed out that there were still strong voices in the US advocating an “America first” policy. Giglio Vigna stressed that the USA had been urging the Europeans to do more to guarantee their own defence and security even before Donald Trump’s presidency and would continue to do so in the future.  

Gunther Krichbaum: the two-percent goal for defence spending remains 

Chairman of the Bundestag’s Committee on European Union Affairs Gunther Krichbaum, who was moderating the debate, pointed out that a clear majority in Europe had welcomed the US election results. He strongly welcomed the intention announced by Joe Biden of re-joining the Paris Agreement and said that other international organisations could again be hopeful of receiving support and cooperation from the USA. With regard to the NATO collective defence alliance, he recalled the commitment made by NATO member states to spend two percent of their GDP on defence. The Democrats and future President Biden would remind them of this, Krichbaum was sure. 

Biden’s influence on the Brexit negotiations 

As moderator of the debate, he also put a question to the British delegation who were, it can be assumed, participating for the last time in a COSAC meeting, asking what impacts the change of President might have on the Brexit negotiations. Charles Kinnoull, Chair of the House of Lords European Union Committee, pointed out that Biden, with his Irish roots, was very interested in the outcome of the negotiations. This would not, however, be a game-changer in the negotiations between the EU and the United Kingdom, since Joe Biden had “respect for our institutions and wouldn’t want to interfere in them”.  Irish parliamentarian Neale Richmond took a similar view: that Biden would not intervene in the ongoing talks. At the same time, he stressed, the pressure on the negotiating partners to reach a deal would be increased. After all, Biden had clearly stated that there could be no trade deal between the US and the UK if the British did not meet their commitments entered into in the withdrawal agreement.  

COSAC discusses lessons from the coronavirus crisis 

Alongside the transatlantic relationship, COSAC also spoke on Monday morning about the coronavirus pandemic. Guido Wolf, chair of the Committee on European Union Questions at the Bundesrat, who was presiding over the discussion, made clear at the outset one concern for many parliamentarians, saying that “We need to avoid parliaments being sidelined in this crisis" and stressing the particular importance of the measures restricting freedoms in the crisis being subjected to parliamentary debate. He emphasised the need to ensure the involvement of parliaments and spoke of the importance of improved coordination at European level between the member states and European institutions, After all, Wolf pointed out, “the virus does not stop at borders”.  

ECDC Director Ammon: we do not want to gather all the power at EU level 

Dr Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), stressed to the delegates that the rate of Covid infections was currently very high, although there had been a slight decline. She expressed concern at the high occupancy rate of ICU beds in hospitals. Many countries no longer had much spare capacity, she said. 

The ECDC was working closely with national health authorities and developing an early-warning system for pandemics. However, providing comprehensive and reliable data on Covid developments was still a challenge for some member states, she said. With regard to the division of competences, she said the intention was not to gather all powers at EU level. “What we are seeing is that the pandemic is also local and requires local knowledge“, she said. 

Improved digital connectivity of health agencies 

There were calls from COSAC participants for improved digital connectivity of health agencies. In addition, it was stressed, there were difficulties in testing and contact tracing, as well as the necessary harmonisation of rules for travel within the EU. Several parliamentarians expressed support for strengthening the ECDC. 

State Secretary for Health Thomas Gebhart: cooperation needed to create added value for all 

Thomas Gebhart, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Health, expressed his openness to demands of this kind – yet he made clear that such strengthening would need to be underpinned by financial resources. He stressed that the basic division of competences in health policy between the EU and the member states should also not be forgotten: “Health policy falls within the responsibility of the member states”. Discussions were necessary to identify fields in which cooperation could be intensified in order to create added value for all. “This is the task we face”, he said. (hau/01.12.2020)

The report on session III can be read here.

The report on session IV can ve read here.

The report on session V can be read here.

Recording of the virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion on 30 November 2020 and 1 December 2020

00:05:31

Film of the Conference of the Virtual COSAC

Here you can get a brief insight into the topics discussed at the Virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion (COSAC), or­ganised by the German Bundestag in cooper­ation with the Bundesrat on 30 November and 1st December 2020 in Berlin

More information can be found here.

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  • Type of media Video
  • Format MP4

Recording of the virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion

00:05:31

Film of the Conference of the Virtual COSAC

00:00:57

Gunther Krichbaum at the virtual COSAC

00:01:38

Thomas Hacker at the virtual COSAC

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