As we settle into 2016, the agenda confronting the West is arguably the most demanding since the Cold War. At home, eroding confidence in political institutions, rising populism and a slow economic recovery have become the new normal on both sides of the Atlantic. In the near abroad, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought geopolitics back to Europe, and stemming out of Syria is a double-edged challenge in the form of the ISIS terrorist threat and the refugee crisis. Further afield, China seems bent on testing US resolve in the South China Sea and challenging the global economic order by establishing its own Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
In this bleak new environment, it would only be natural for Western leaders to hunker down in crisis-management mode. But Europe and the US cannot afford to remain passive; they must strive to proactively shape developments for the better. One of the few positive initiatives of recent years is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This deal would help drive economic growth and job creation for both Europe and the US, making the West more globally competitive. But TTIP is about much more than just dollars and euros , it is fundamentally about getting our house in order to deal with rising geopolitical and geo-economic challenges and together defending a rules-based international order that’s under heavy pressure. In short, TTIP is an essential ingredient for bringing about a “transatlantic renaissance” in the 21st century.
“TTIP would prove to Washington that Europe is not yesterday’s news”
For Europe, TTIP would help put the continent back on track from its internal economic and political mess, reducing the appeal of populist parties and euroscepticism. TTIP is also part of a Western strategy for rolling back Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe, particularly when it comes to shoring up transatlantic unity and boosting energy security. It would promote a more dynamic and outward-looking Europe – something that is even more pertinent in the wake of the eurozone and refugee crises – and help draw countries in the wider neighbourhood closer to European values.
Across the Atlantic, TTIP can pave the way to a deeper and more strategic transatlantic relationship. At a time when the West accounts for a declining share of the world’s GDP, maintaining transatlantic unity is becoming more crucial. While NATO stands to gain from more vibrant European economies better able to devote significant resources to defence, TTIP also presents an opportunity to deepen and broaden the general transatlantic relationship, adding a new economic “anchor” to the partnership that could lay the foundations for a more integrated and open transatlantic marketplace. Already a symbol of long-term US commitment to Europe, TTIP would prove to Washington that Europe is not yesterday’s news but a dynamic player with whom it should strengthen its partnership.
“To conclude the deal would serve as a powerful demonstration that the West is not doomed to decline”
Perhaps most importantly, TTIP would underpin the international liberal order at a time of global power shifts. If the EU and the US can agree on critical standards and regulations with each other, they will significantly enhance their ability to make these the international standard, forcing China and other rising powers to buy into Western norms and principles or else risk falling behind.
Unfortunately, however, TTIP’s future appears uncertain. The original goal of completing the agreement during the Obama administration now seems unrealistic. The political timeline for reaching a deal soon is not encouraging either; the 2016 US presidential elections, the Brexit referendum and key elections in Germany and France in 2017 will offer little political capital to advance the deal. But given what is at stake, Washington and the European capitals should redouble their efforts to bring the TTIP negotiations to the finish line once and for all. To conclude the deal would serve as a powerful demonstration that the West is not doomed to decline, but will actively assert itself in an increasingly challenging and multipolar era.
IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – campact