Throughout the past half-century, the driving force of globalization and the creation of a rules-based order has been the North Atlantic partnership between the United States and Europe. But in the past six months, the paths of America and Europe have diverged on everything from trade and climate change to preserving an open, multilateral international system. Today, the European Union (EU) finds itself without a strong partner with a similar vision who can help shoulder the responsibilities of global governance. But the current situation also presents an opportunity for a different partnership: one between the EU and China.
The EU and China already maintain a strategic partnership, yet it is one that hasn’t achieved much in the past decade. But today, the stars are perfectly aligned for the EU-China partnership to reach its full potential and become the world’s G2.
Such a partnership might have been difficult to imagine a few years ago. But picture it now: at the ministerial G20 summit, the United States removed a pledge about opposing protectionism from the official communiqué. At the Hamburg G20 Summit, the United States found itself swimming against the tide, the official communiqué acknowledging the divergence between Washington and the remaining 19. At the G7 as well, the United States was the only country not joining the consensus regarding climate change, Washington having announced that it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
On trade, Washington has quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), shelved the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and threatened to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The question is no longer whether the Doha Round will ever be finalized, but whether the new administration might undermine the World Trade Organization (WTO). When it comes to development assistance, the United States will probably turn its back from the world, as Donald Trump plans to vastly reduce the State Department’s budget. The signal from Washington is pretty clear: world, you’re on your own.
But this is not the elite consensus in American politics. It isn’t even the Republican consensus. Nonetheless, Trump has remained wary of global governance, multilateralism and of the vital role the United States plays in addressing global issues. Eventually, a new president will come to the White House in four or eight years, and U.S. policy will probably bend back toward normal. Another Republican president might still oppose climate action, yet he or she will at least address other global issues. But the real question is what happens in the meantime: do we pause the clock or does the world move forward with addressing the countless problems it faces?