Vaccines, tech, and climate: Europe pitches a new partnership to President-elect Biden

December 2, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

With the “America First” President heading for the exit, Europe hopes to build a new transatlantic partnership with his successor, President-elect Joe Biden—and it would like to start with vaccines.

On Wednesday, the European Commission publicly set out its wish list for the future EU-U.S. relationship. At the top of the list: an invitation for the Biden-era U.S. to join the COVAX initiative, a global pact for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. After China joined a couple of months back, the U.S. became the only major holdout.

Also on the list: a “transatlantic green trade agenda” and a “green tech alliance,” regulatory cooperation on labor rights and tech, finance, and tax reform, plus a joint effort to reform the World Trade Organization.

“We are taking the initiative to design a new transatlantic agenda fit for today’s global landscape,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a statement. “The transatlantic alliance is based on shared values and history, but also interests: building a stronger, more peaceful, and more prosperous world. When the transatlantic partnership is strong, the EU and the U.S. are both stronger.”

The tenure of incumbent President Donald Trump has seen constant tension between the U.S. and the EU over everything from trade and defense, to foreign policy on Iran, the climate emergency, tech regulation, and tax policy.

Biden, by contrast, is a multilateralist whom Europe hopes to find more cooperative—though the Trump era has also accelerated a European push for “sovereignty” from its traditional partner, and that isn’t going away.

Here’s a quick rundown of the European Commission’s proposal.


The COVAX financing instrument is supposed to make sure there are 2 billion coronavirus vaccine doses available by the end of 2021, with low- and middle-income countries being able to benefit. The Commission says that “U.S. participation and financial contribution to COVAX would be a strong message, help make up the funding gap, and improve our collective chances of success.” It also wants the U.S. and EU to jointly build global logistics networks for vaccine distribution.


The Commission says it wants to work with the U.S. to both reinforce and reform the World Health Organization (much criticized by President Trump) to “strengthen its independence, transparency, accountability, and effectiveness.” It’s also calling for “joint leadership on reforming the WTO” and delivering a collective kick-start to the body’s dispute-settlement function, which has been effectively jammed by the Trump administration.

Climate emergency

The U.S. adopting a net-zero-by-2050 climate policy “would mean about two-thirds of the global economy, and more than a half of the world’s emissions, would be accounted for,” the Commission said. This is something Biden has already said he wants to do. The Commission also wants to cooperate with the U.S. on designing sustainable-finance regulation—to support green investments—and is calling for a “green tech alliance” covering areas such as renewables, clean hydrogen, carbon capture, and energy storage.


The Commission thinks the combination of rapid technological change and “the challenges of rival systems of digital governance”—think China—creates an opportunity for a “joint EU-U.S. tech agenda.” It’s talking about things like A.I., 5G and the futuristic 6G, cybersecurity, antitrust, and data protection. This seems like one of the proposal’s more optimistic elements, given the EU’s much more proactive approach to tech regulation and the importance of Big Tech to the U.S. economy. But the reining-in of tech giants is a popular subject in U.S. policy circles these days, on both sides of the aisle.


Trump’s U.S. has been very much against the “digital taxes” being introduced in France and elsewhere in the EU, and has paused OECD negotiations over a global solution to the issue of where tech multinationals should pay tax on their revenues. The Commission would like the U.S. to rejoin the discussion; this will be a real political hot potato for Biden, given the American nature of Google, Amazon, and the rest.

The Commission has asked the European Council—the group of EU national leaders that sets the bloc’s overall political agenda—to now endorse its proposal.

The Biden transition team had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.