Transatlantic Policy Dialogue: Recap of the 2023 EU-US Summit

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On 20 October, the US and EU and held their first joint summit since June 2021. During the summit, leaders of the US and the EU, including US President Joe Biden, Council President Charles Michel, and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen discussed a wide range of topics and issued a joint statement.  

They emphasized their commitment to transatlantic cooperation, addressed security and defence matters, and discussed their stance on international issues. The summit highlighted their shared concerns about Ukraine and the Middle East, as well as issues such as trade disputes, climate change, and technology cooperation.  

The parties discussed various aspects of their relationship, including trade, sustainable development, climate change, and the digital economy. While there were no concrete commitments on some issues, they agreed to continue cooperation on these matters in the future. The summit also underlined the importance of a rules-based global trade approach and tackling misinformation.  

The summit has also put a spotlight on key differences between EU leaders, as Council President Charles Michele had a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden, while Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has reportedly opted to join President Biden for a separate walk-through the Rose Garden. 

Security Cooperation: pressing matters and shared concerns  

One of the key topics addressed at the summit was security cooperation. With respect to the unfolding war in the Middle East, both parties have condemned Hamas terrorist attacks and backed Israel’s right to respond, albeit in accordance with human rights.  

They also expressed full support for Ukraine’s Peace Formula and reiterated their position that any peace deal must respect Ukrainian independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, as well as the principles in the United Nations Charter. Both the EU and US repeated their commitment to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity” and highlighted the “strategic importance of its EU accession process”. The joint statement from the summit also accused and condemned Russia for blocking food exports and attacking grain facilities in Ukraine, contributing to food insecurity. The statement also recommitted to enforcing sanctions and export control measures on Russia. 

The summit broadened the EU accession topic to include Moldova and Georgia while pushing for de-escalation in renewed conflicts between Serbia and Kosovo, and Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

In relation to Africa, the summit’s statement affirms the desire for a “thriving, peaceful, democratic, and resilient Africa” and welcomed the African Union as a permanent member of the G20. The statement also reaffirmed commitments to tackling security challenges in the Sahel and North Africa. 

The summit addressed the EU-US relationship with the Indo-Pacific, calling for enhanced cooperation to support the values of democracy, rule of law, human rights, and international law in the region. They specifically mention issues of maritime domain awareness, connectivity, foreign information manipulation and interference, cyber cooperation and more. The joint statement also offered “unwavering support” to ASEAN, and committed to cooperating with them in the region. The summit also reaffirmed the partnership with Pacific Island countries and the importance of supporting their priorities, while respecting international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

Unsurprisingly, China was high on the agenda during the summit. Both parties repeated the importance of building “constructive and stable relations with China”, particularly on issues of climate and biodiversity, vulnerable countries’ debt and financing needs, global health and macroeconomic stability. There was a focus on de-risking, diversifying and addressing vulnerabilities in EU and US supply chains, as well as protecting certain crucial technologies that could threaten global peace and security, without suppressing trade and investment. The statement also mentions addressing challenges “posed by non-market policies and practices”, without mentioning China by name, or how these challenges will be addressed. The summit made clear that concerns remained over the situation in the East and South China Seas, and that both transatlantic counterparts oppose unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force. Although both the US and EU confirmed there was no change to the one China policy, they underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. They also stated that there were still concerns about human rights and forced labour in China, and called on China to respect its previous commitments to Hong Kong. Finally, the joint statement requested China exert its influence on Russia to bring an end to the war in Ukraine.  

The summit addressed increasing cooperation on security and defence between the US and EU, citing NATO as the backbone of this collaboration, but also referring to the Administrative Arrangement between the United States Department of Defense and the European Defence Agency. The high-level discussions also spoke to the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and working with emerging economies and developing countries to achieve core development needs by stepping up “efforts to deliver substantial contributions”.  

The summit highlighted the important role of private capital mobilization in terms of investing in quality infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries by 2027. They specifically mention the Trans-African Corridor and the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor as building blocks for further regional cooperation on inclusive and sustainable economic growth. Additionally, the US and EU will continue to promote digital inclusion, trustworthy information, communication technology and services supply chains around the world. 

Sustainability and environment: no clear commitments  

In the joint statement, there was significant attention given to cooperation on climate change and environmental issues, but no tangible commitments of note. The statement refers to implementing the Paris Agreement for example, which is a non-binding voluntary agreement that has not resulted in significant shifts in energy policy thus far. There are calls for continued investment, research and cooperation to maximize clean energy deployment. Climate change and biodiversity loss were also on the agenda, with seemingly few concrete developments on these fronts, apart from calls to cooperate on such issues at a global level. 

Trade disputes: stocktaking and potential WTO reforms 

The summit did however, address some of the outstanding trade disputes that have been plaguing the EU-US relationship in recent years, though it seems they did not resolve these disputes, with a statement from the summit claiming that leaders “took stock of progress made on the global arrangement on sustainable steel and aluminium and on a targeted critical minerals agreement”. 

EU and US representatives discussed the importance of a global rules-based trade approach, with reforming the WTO a crucial measure highlighted during the summit. There was also a reference to the Global Agreement on Sustainable Steel and Aluminum to address non-market excess capacity and emissions intensity of the steel and aluminium industries, including to promote undistorted trade. The statement then clarifies the need for progress on these objectives in the coming months, demonstrating the lack of agreement on these crucial trade issues that could result in further disagreements, and subsequent tariffs in the coming months, if no resolution is found. 

Technological cooperation: ethical approaches to AI, and high-cybersecurity standards 

At this summit, participants also addressed the digitalisation of the global economy, as well as the growing geopolitical force that is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Both parties confirmed their intentions to support ethical approaches to AI while supporting and harnessing the technology’s massive potential. There was an additional reference to coordinate and promote high cybersecurity standards to protect businesses and consumers, with a Joint CyberSafe Products Action Plan. The importance of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) was also highlighted in terms of leading cooperation and negotiations on trade and technology matters. 

Economic resilience and security: strengthening the transatlantic marketplace and relationship 

The post-summit statement reaffirmed the pledge of both parties to strengthen the transatlantic marketplace and relationship. The EU and US recommitted to cooperation on trade and technology matters, with particular emphasis on “mutually beneficial resilience and sustainability of our supply chains” and on “technologies that underpin the transition to a climate-neutral economy”.  The issue of misinformation was also raised, with references to threats posed to “democratic values, processes, and stability”, and the need for cooperation to mitigate these threats. Finally, there were commitments to facilitate “visa-free travel between all EU Member States and the United States”, as well as increased and easier academic exchanges.