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Updated February 5, 2020

U.S.-European Relations in the 116th Congress

Since the end of the Second World War, successive U.S.
Administrations and many Members of Congress have
supported a close U.S. partnership with Europe. Often
termed the transatlantic relationship, the U.S.-European
partnership encompasses NATO, the European Union (EU),
and extensive bilateral political and economic ties. Over the
past 70 years, political tensions, trade disputes, and changes
in the security landscape have tested U.S.-European
relations. Despite periodic difficulties, U.S. and European
policymakers have valued the transatlantic partnership as
serving their respective geostrategic and economic interests.

President Trump and some officials in his Administration
have questioned the tenets of the post World War II
transatlantic security and economic architecture to an
unprecedented extent. President Trump's criticisms of
NATO, the EU, and key European countries have prompted
significant concerns in Europe. The Administration
contends that it is committed to NATO and supports close
U.S.-European ties, but some Europeans question whether
the United States will remain a reliable, credible partner.
Policy divergences on a wide range of regional and global
issues also pose challenges to U.S.-European relations. The
second session of the 116th Congress may wish to consider
the implications of Trump Administration policies for U.S.
interests in Europe and U.S.-European cooperation.

U.S. policymakers have long regarded both NATO and the
EU as crucial to maintaining peace and stability in Europe
and stymieing big-power competition that cost over
500,000 American lives in two world wars. The United
States spearheaded NATO's creation in 1949 and
encouraged the European integration project from its
inception in the 1950s. During the Cold War, NATO and
the European project were considered essential to deterring
the Soviet threat. With strong U.S. support, NATO and the
EU have enlarged since the 1990s, extending security and
prosperity across the European continent.

The U.S. and European economies are deeply intertwined.
In 2018, the EU accounted for about one-fifth of total U.S.
trade in goods and services. The United States and the EU
are each other's largest source and destination for foreign
direct investment. According to data from the U.S. Bureau
of Economic Analysis, in 2017, the U.S.-European
economy generated $5 trillion a year in foreign affiliate
sales and directly employed over 9 million workers on both
sides of the Atlantic. (See also CRS In Focus IF10930,
U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Ties: Magnitude and Scope,
by Shayerah Ilias Akhtar.)

U.S. leadership of NATO and cooperation with the EU has
helped to foster democratic and prosperous European allies
that, in turn, have bolstered U.S. foreign and security
policies, the multilateral trading system, and the credibility
of U.S. global leadership. The United States and Europe
work together on many common challenges from
promoting stability in the Balkans and Afghanistan to
addressing Russian aggression in Ukraine to countering
terrorism and other transnational threats. U.S.-EU
cooperation has been a driving force in liberalizing world
trade. Experts point out that the well-honed habits of U.S.-
European political, military, and intelligence cooperation
are unique and cannot be easily replicated with other
international actors. U.S. engagement in Europe also helps
limit Russian, Chinese, or other possible malign influences.

At times, U.S. officials and analysts have expressed
frustration with certain aspects of the transatlantic
relationship. Previous U.S. Administrations and many
Members of Congress have criticized what they view as
insufficient European burden sharing in NATO, and some
have questioned the costs of the U.S. military presence in
Europe. U.S. policymakers have long complained about EU
regulatory barriers to trade and that the EU lacks a single
voice on many foreign policy issues. Some U.S. analysts
have argued that a close partnership with Europe at times
requires compromise and may slow certain U.S. decisions.
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The Trump Administration's 2017 National Security
Strategy states that the United States is safer when Europe
is prosperous and stable, and can help defend our shared
interests and ideals. The Administration contends that its
policies toward Europe seek to shore up and preserve a
strong transatlantic partnership to better address common
challenges in an increasingly competitive world.

The Administration asserts that the United States supports
NATO and its Article 5 mutual defense commitment but
contends that NATO will be stronger when all members
pay their fair share. President Trump's perceived
transactional view of NATO and his almost singular focus
on European defense spending as the measure of NATO's
worth are seen by many as damaging alliance cohesion.
Some believe that President Trump could seek to withdraw
the United States from NATO.

Given long-standing U.S. support for the EU, the
Administration's seeming hostility has surprised the bloc.
President Trump has voiced support for the United
Kingdom's (UK) decision to leave the EU (Brexit). He
contends that the EU engages in unfair trade practices and
is especially critical of the U.S. goods trade deficit with the
EU ($170 billion in 2018). The EU is concerned by what it


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