MEPs hope for strengthening transatlantic ties

They said big tech companies abuse their dominant position and need clear rules

Photo: EP

During the plenary debate on Wednesday, MEPs welcome the inauguration of Joe Biden as an opportunity for Europe to strengthen EU-US ties and tackle common challenges and threats to the democratic system. 

They debated the inauguration of Joe Biden as new US President and the political situation in the United States with European Council President Charles Michel and EC President Ursula von der Leyen.

Saying that today is an opportunity “to rejuvenate our transatlantic relationship”, which has greatly suffered in the last four years, President Michel opined that during this time, the world has grown more complex, less stable and less predictable.

“More than ever before, this requires us Europeans to take our fate firmly in our own hands to defend our interests and promote our values. Together with the US, we must stand as the bedrock for the rules-based international order, working for peace, security, prosperity, freedom, human rights and gender equality,” EUCO President underlined.

President von der Leyen accented that Europe now has a friend in the White House and is ready for a new start with its oldest and most trusted partner. We must push for global change based on common values, on democracy, climate change, the handling of the pandemic, and digitalization, she also pointed and called for cooperation with the US to regulate tech giants.

According to her, the unbridled political power of internet giants must be reined in and their behaviour must be dictated by laws instead of arbitrary decisions made by a Silicon Valley CEO.

On the issues on regulation of big tech, fighting populism, address common challenges focused MEPs during their interventions.

Today is a day of hope as four years of dividing society are now behind us, stressed Manfred Weber (EPP, DE). He also said that big tech needs clear rules, as they have to serve society. It is also important to take the concerns of Trump voters seriously, Weber said defining that protecting the borders is not extremism.

Ignoring the scourge of inequality is how some of the worst upheavals of the last few years, such as Brexit and Trumpism, began, Iratxe García Pérez (S&D, ES) stressed, noting that all democracies, even the strongest, are vulnerable. In her words, “the horrifying scenes of the attack on the Capitol prove that we must fight against disinformation”. Another common EU-US challenge in her view is rebuilding the multilateral system, and ensuring rules and democratic institutions are respected.

Dacian Ciolos (Renew, RO) said that the attack on the Capitol has recognisable roots. He commented that populism, the pursuit of individualistic interests while in public office, polarisation and big lies made up and propagated from the country’s highest office. For him today is “an opportunity we cannot miss and we need to roll up our sleeves and reshape our partnership and find a common vision on how to deal with common challenges such as easing trade tensions, fighting climate change, and how to deal with digital giants.

Stressing that the attack on the temple of US democracy is unforgivable, Jerome Riviere (ID, FR), also condemned that almost all social media blocked a democratically elected president who was still in office, breaching the essential democratic principle of freedom of expression. He said that Donald Trump’s defeat does not change the political agenda of the US, “which is to dominate people worldwide”.

Ska Keller (Greens/EFA, DE) called for fundamental freedoms and rule of law to be safeguarded. According to her, events on Capitol Hill were the direct result of Trump’s encouragement and “four years of daily lies and contempt for facts”. Is Europe safe from populism and demagogues, from disinformation and attacks on the rule of law, she asked.

In his intervention, Derk Jan Eppink (ECR, NL) warned against silencing public debate by tech giants or politicians, admitting that “big tech companies abuse their dominant position. Their power must be broken”. But while democrats might be “traumatised after four years of Trump, the new incumbents should refrain from criminalising dissent”. He voiced his opinion that “raising inconvenient questions” is the core of democracy.

According to Martin Schirdewan (Left, DE) four years of Trump have undermined trust in democracy, which must be restored and strengthened”. He said that the new US president must also signal a new start in the transatlantic relationship, highlighting that for his group, the demands are clear, namely a return to multilateralism, a common policy that is committed to climate action, and working together for a peaceful world order.

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