Von der Leyen: EU will seek alliance with US

Biden also express readiness to work closely with the bloc, describes transatlantic alliances as a priority for Washington

Photo: EPA/ BGNES European Union chief executive Ursula von der Leyen

Europe and the United States should join forces in the fight against climate change and agree on a new framework for the digital market, limiting the power of big tech companies, European Union chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.

“I am sure: A shared transatlantic commitment to a net-zero emissions pathway by 2050 would make climate neutrality a new global benchmark,” the president of the European Commission said in a speech at the virtual Munich Security Conference on Friday.

“Together, we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide: a set of rules based on our values, human rights and pluralism, inclusion and the protection of privacy,” she added.

The EU has pledged to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while President Joe Biden has committed the United States to become a “net zero economy” by 2050.

Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times and avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. The hope is that a transatlantic alliance could help persuade large emitters who have yet to commit to this timeline - including China, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060, and India.

“The United States is our natural partner for global leadership on climate change,” von der Leyen said.

In her speech, she called the 6 January storming of the US Capitol a turning point for the discussion on the impact social media has on democracies.

“Of course, imposing democratic limits on the uncontrolled power of big tech companies alone will not stop political violence,” von der Leyen said. “But it is an important step.”

She was referring to a draft set of rules unveiled in December which aims to rein in tech companies that control troves of data and online platforms relied on by thousands of companies and millions of Europeans for work and social interactions. They show the European Commission’s frustration with its antitrust cases against the tech giants, notably Alphabet Inc’s Google, which critics say have not addressed the problem.

But they also risk inflaming tensions with Washington, already irked by Brussels’ attempts to tax US tech firms more.

Nevertheless, for his part, Biden said in his first major speech on the European stage that "the United States will work closely with our European Union partners and the capitals across the continent."

"I am a man of my word. America is back. I speak today as president of the United States, at the very start of my administration, and I'm sending a clear message to the world: American is back. The transatlantic alliance is back. And we are not looking backward," Biden said.

Biden also stressed that the US is committed to its alliance with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), noting that Washington stands fully behind the organisation's collective security treaty.

He argued that the world is at an inflection point where it must decide between democracy and autocracy, and noted that "we are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world."

"We must prepare together for long-term strategic competition with China. How the United States, Europe, and Asia work together to secure the peace and defend our shared values and advance our prosperity across the Pacific, will be among the most consequential efforts we undertake," Biden said.

"We can own the race for the future," he reassured the audience.

During her speech at the conference, which took place immediately after Biden's, Merkel welcomed the renewed transatlantic alliance and everything that the Biden administration has already done to salvage Washington's international partnerships.

The annual conference on international security policy is taking place online for the first time this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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