Trans-Atlantic Scorecard — October 2020

FILE PHOTO: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and U.S. President Donald Trump participate in their second 2020 presidential campaign debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., October 22, 2020. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/Pool/File Photo

Brookings - Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative Welcome to the ninth edition of the Trans-Atlantic Scorecard, a quarterly evaluation of U.S.-European relations produced by Brookings’s Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE), as part of the Brookings – Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative. To produce the Scorecard, we poll Brookings scholars and other experts on the present state of U.S. relations with Europe — overall and in the political, security, and economic dimensions — as well as on the state of U.S. relations with five key countries and the European Union itself. We also ask about several major issues in the news. The poll for this edition of the survey was conducted October 12 to 15, 2020. The experts’ analyses are complemented by a Timeline of significant moments over the previous three calendar months and a Snapshot of the relationship, including a tracker of President Trump’s telephone conversations with European leaders, figures presenting data relevant to the relationship, and CUSE Director Thomas Wright’s take on what to watch in the coming months.


July 1
Germany took over the 6-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union from Finland.
July 1
In a national referendum, Russians voted overwhelmingly to pass constitutional amendments that would allow President Putin to stay in power until 2036.
July 1
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that his government would not apologize for Dutch involvement in the slave trade, despite calls from three Dutch political parties to issue a formal apology.
July 1
The European Commission presented draft negotiating frameworks to the Council for EU accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia.
July 5
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković’s ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) secured a clear victory in national elections. On July 3, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had controversially appeared in a promotional video for HDZ alongside other politicians in the European People’s Party (EPP).
July 6
French President Macron presented his new government to the public, including a new Prime Minister, Jean Castex, who had taken over the role from Édouard Philippe on July 3.
July 6
Members of the European Parliament Trade Committee voted in favor of provisions that would expand the scope of acceptable retaliation measures used in ongoing trade tensions between the European Union and the United States. These include allowing trade restrictions on U.S. services and intellectual property rights and giving the European Union the power to take counter measures without an official WTO ruling.
July 7
The European Commission launched a platform in partnership with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance to monitor restrictions of fundamental rights introduced since the pandemic in 162 countries, including all EU member states and the United States.
July 7
The United States officially withdrew from the World Health Organization. The withdrawal will take effect on July 6, 2021.
July 8
German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Brussels, marking her first trip abroad since the onset of the pandemic. Her visit included a meeting with the European Parliament, an EU presidential conference, and a bilateral meeting with European Council President Charles Michel.
July 9
Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe was elected as the next Eurogroup president by Eurozone finance ministers, winning out over Spain’s Nadia Calviño and Luxembourg’s Pierre Gramegna.
July 10
European Council President Charles Michel presented a revised budget for the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and coronavirus recovery initiative. His proposal included €1.074 trillion for the MFF, a decrease from the Commission’s proposed budget, as well as €750 billion for the recovery fund, including €500 billion in grants.
July 10
French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel held a videoconference with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbia’s President Aleksander Vucic ahead of continued talks in Brussels to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
July 10
President Erdogan announced that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul would become a mosque again following a Turkish court decision that ruled the building’s 1934 conversion into a museum illegal. President Erdogan would lead Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia on July 24.
July 12
In runoff presidential elections, incumbent Polish President Andrzej Duda narrowly defeated his challenger Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, 51.03% to 48.97%. Given widespread voting irregularities, particularly among members of the Polish diaspora and in nursing homes, supporters of Trzaskowski challenged the results. On August 3, however, the Polish Supreme Court validated the election result.
July 13
At EU’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting, foreign affairs ministers discussed EU-Turkey relations in light of recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya.
July 13
Speaking with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ahead of a European Council summit on July 17, Chancellor Merkel warned that Europeans would need a “massive” recovery fund as part of the long-term budget, rather than one that is “reduced to dwarf size.” She further underlined that Germany would stand by Italy’s side in the budget negotiations.
July 14
Prime Minister Johnson ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027, after the United States imposed sanctions on the Chinese company and banned suppliers from selling it chips made using U.S. technology without a special license.
July 15
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier defended Germany’s response to China’s new security law, warning that those who seek a tougher course with China are not considering the economic consequences. He stressed that he had “always been convinced and […] still believe[d] that change can be achieved through trade.”
July 15
The European Union’s General Court overturned a 2016 European Commission decision ordering Ireland to reclaim more than €13 billion in back taxes from Apple. The 2016 decision arguing that Ireland’s tax arrangement with Apple amounted to an illegal subsidy was a central part of the EU’s effort to tax big tech companies.
July 16
North Macedonia’s Social Democrats, led by incumbent Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, narrowly won parliamentary elections, the country’s first since it opted to change its name to North Macedonia, paving the way for NATO membership and removing a hurdle for EU accession talks. The Social Democrats struck a coalition agreement with the Democratic Union for Integration, the country’s main Albanian party and secured Zaev another term as prime minister.
July 16
The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and Canada’s Communications Security Establishment released a report warning that Russian hackers from the group APT29 were targeting organizations in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States involved with the development of a coronavirus vaccine. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security endorsed “the technical detail and mitigation advice” provided by the report.
July 16
The European Court of Justice struck down the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield agreement governing the secure transfer of data across the Atlantic due to concerns that the agreement did not sufficiently protect EU citizens’ data from being accessed by the U.S. government.
July 18
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, President Macron, and Chancellor Merkel issued a joint statement urging foreign actors to halt their involvement in Libya and respect the arms embargo, threatening sanctions for those who would not.
July 20
The United Kingdom suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and announced that it would extend to Hong Kong an arms embargo that had been in place against China since 1989. Both moves came in response to the new security law providing China with sweeping powers over Hong Kong.
July 21
After a marathon European Council summit beginning on Friday, July 17, EU leaders agreed to a new long-term budget and coronavirus recovery plan, envisioning €390 billion in grants and €360 billion in loans for the recovery plan and €1.074 trillion for the new budget. The deal was a landmark in European integration as it marked the first time that the European Union would take on joint debt on a large scale in financing the COVID-19 recovery plan. The rule of law mechanism in the budget was left deliberately vague.
July 21
The U.K. House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee released a report on Russian influence operations and U.K. democratic processes. Among other conclusions, the report detailed the slow British response to Russian influence operations, the complexity of the relationship between British intelligence agencies that prevented one organization from taking responsibility, and the ability of Russian elites with ties to President Putin to exercise influence in the U.K. through political organizations or donations.
July 21
Turkey announced that it would conduct seismic surveys south and east of the Greek island of Kastellorizo in an area claimed by the Greek government. In response, the Greek armed forces were placed on alert, and Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos told U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in a call that Greece was prepared to “defend its sovereign rights if necessary.”
July 23
The chairs of foreign affairs committees from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the European Parliament, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom issued a statement urging China to rethink its imposition of a new security law on Hong Kong, calling the law a violation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
July 26
Russian President Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to an expanded cease fire, due to take hold just after midnight on July 27. Both sides also agreed that the implementation of the Minsk peace plan was a failure. The Ukrainian military reported that pro-Russian separatists had already violated the ceasefire hours after it went into force.
July 27
President Trump announced his decision to nominate Col. Douglas Macgregor as Ambassador to Germany. The pick was controversial because Macgregor had been a vocal critic of Chancellor Merkel’s refugee policy, saying that Muslim migrants were coming to Europe “with the goal of eventually turning Europe into an Islamic state.”
July 28
In response to China’s new security law, European foreign ministers agreed to further limit the export of “sensitive equipment and technologies for end-use in Hong Kong,” citing fears that they could be used for “internal repression, the interception of internal communications or cyber-surveillance.”
July 30
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that the Polish constitutional court would examine whether the Istanbul Convention, a 2011 treaty aimed at combating violence against women, violated Poland’s legal order. The move came days after Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro announced the Poland would withdraw from the treaty, calling it “harmful” and “contain[ing] elements of an ideological nature.”


August 1
An estimated 20,000 people gathered in Berlin for a protest against Germany’s measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Organized by a group called Querdenken 711, the demonstration brought together thousands from across Germany, including conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, LGBTQ activists, and others in violation of social distancing measures.
August 3
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that the United States and Poland had concluded negotiations on an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which would send 1,000 more U.S. troops to Poland, in addition to the 4,500 U.S. troops already stationed there.
August 4
A massive explosion on the docks in Beirut killed at least 78 people and damaged large parts of the city. The explosion was later linked to a large amount of ammonium nitrate that was ignited by exploding fireworks also stored nearby. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen later promised the deployment of European firefighters, a military vessel capable of medical evacuation, teams equipped to detect hazardous materials, and €33 million in financial aid.
August 5
Senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and Ron Johnson wrote a letter threatening a Baltic port operator with “crushing” sanctions for its support of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
August 6
Greece and Egypt signed an agreement delineating the borders of their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in the Eastern Mediterranean. The two countries had been in talks about the borders of their EEZs for 15 years but came under pressure to complete negotiations due to a border agreement signed by Turkey and the Libyan government in November 2019.
August 7
President Trump issued executive orders banning transactions with the Chinese companies ByteDance – parent company of TikTok – and WeChat, citing national security concerns. The ban would come into effect on September 20.
August 9
In Belarusian presidential elections, incumbent Alexander Lukashenko officially won 80.23% of the vote, while opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya received 9.9%. The opposition disputed the election result. Protests broke out across the country after the polls closed, leading to clashes with the police and 3,000 arrests.
August 10
A Turkish vessel, escorted by warships, arrived in waters claimed by Greece to conduct seismic research south of the island of Kastellorizo. The Greek foreign ministry responded by urging Turkey to halt its “illegal actions,” while government officials announced that Greek flotillas were also in the area calling on the ship to leave.
August 10
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in several countries “as a result of physical distancing measures being relaxed” and urged countries experiencing a second wave to reintroduce or reinforce existing social distancing measures.
August 11
President Putin announced that Russia had approved a COVID-19 vaccine for public use, even though clinical trials had not yet been completed. Putin claimed that his daughter had been given the vaccine and said that while it would be voluntary, it could be rolled out to teachers and health care workers within the month.
August 12
In a speech to the Czech Senate, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the threat posed by China “is in some ways much more difficult” than that posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Pompeo called on Czechs to stand up to Chinese economic coercion as they did against Soviet oppression.
August 14
In an emergency summit, EU foreign ministers agreed to sanction those responsible for the crackdown in Belarus following the contested presidential election on August 9. With tensions escalating in the Eastern Mediterranean, in particular following the deployment of French naval forces, EU foreign ministers also reaffirmed their support for Greek and Cypriot sovereignty and called on Turkey to deescalate.
August 16
Following days of protests and violent police crackdowns, thousands of protestors gathered in Minsk to demand the resignation of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. In response, Lukashenko organized a counter-protest, telling them “If you destroy Lukashenko, it will be the beginning of the end for you.”
August 19
Following a European council summit, European heads of state condemned the August 9 Belarusian election as “neither free nor fair” and agreed to sanction those responsible for the brutal police crackdown on protestors and election fraud.
August 20
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was hospitalized under suspicions that he was poisoned while flying from Tomsk to Moscow. President Macron and Chancellor Merkel offered Navalny asylum and medical aid. Navalny would arrive in Berlin for medical treatment on August 22.
August 21
The warring factions in Libya led by Fayez Al-Serraj and Aguila Saleh announced a ceasefire and plans to hold elections. EU High Representative Josep Borrell welcomed the announcement and called for “all foreign interference” in Libya to end.
August 21
The seventh round of talks on the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom ended in stalemate as the two sides could not reach agreement on rules regarding state aid and fisheries. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier lamented the lack of progress and warned that a deal did not seem likely, while David Frost, the British chief negotiator, blamed the European Union for the delays. The next round of talks was scheduled for September 7.
August 24
The Charité hospital in Berlin confirmed that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had been poisoned. Chancellor Merkel and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for Russian authorities to “clarify this act down to the last detail — and in full transparency.”
August 26
EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan resigned following a scandal surrounding his attendance at a golfing society dinner in defiance of Irish coronavirus restrictions. Hogan had been entrusted with navigating trade tensions with President Trump and negotiating an investment deal with China. Von der Leyen later announced that Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis would become interim trade commissioner until a replacement for Hogan could be found.
August 28
Hungary announced that it would close its borders to non-Hungarian citizens, with exceptions for Czech, Polish, and Slovakian travelers. With numbers of COVID-19 cases on the rise in Europe, Hungary was the first country to re-close its borders.
August 29
EU High Representative Borrell called for a new election in Belarus, ideally under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Clamping down on press access, the Belarusian government cancelled press accreditation for journalists working for foreign media, including AFP, ARD, BBC, Reuters, and RFE/RL. Protests would continue over the weekend.
August 29
Approximately 38,000 people participated in anti-lockdown protests in Berlin, with some being arrested by the police for violating social distancing measures. A group of far-right protestors waving imperial German Reichsflaggen broke through police barriers and attempted to storm the German parliament.
August 31
The head of the Czech senate, Milos Vystrcil, said “I am a Taiwanese” in a speech expressing his support for Taiwan, echoing President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech expressing solidarity with the people of Berlin. State Councilor Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, called the speech a “public affront” and said that Vystrcil had “crossed the red line.” Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová later indicated her support for Vystrcil, while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Europe would not countenance threats.


September 2
Chancellor Merkel announced that Alexei Navalny had “without a doubt” been poisoned by novichok, according to the results of tests done by a German military lab and demanded that the Russian government provide an explanation. EU High Representative Borrell called the poisoning “an assassination attempt,” while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the news about the use of a military-grade nerve agent made it more urgent that the Russian government conduct a transparent investigation. An open letter signed by more than 130 MEPs called for targeted sanctions in response to the poisoning.
September 7
President Trump said he would support Germany pulling out of a pipeline project with Russia over the alleged poisoning of Alexei Navalny but claimed Berlin may be too “weakened” in terms of energy security to do so. President Trump has previously criticized the project for engendering German and European overreliance on Russian gas.
September 7
Ahead of the next round of Brexit negotiations beginning on September 8, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that if the United Kingdom and the European Union fail to reach an agreement by October 15, there would be no trade deal. Two days later, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis confirmed that the U.K. would violate the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement Prime Minister Johnson struck with the European Union in 2019 in the areas of state aid and Northern Ireland customs. He said that the bill would “break international law in a specific and limited way.”
September 8
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that acting Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis would permanently retain the role of Trade Commissioner pursuant to Phil Hogan’s resignation. Von der Leyen also announced that Mairead McGuinness, MEP would become Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services, and the Capital Markets Union, a post previously held by Dombrovskis.
September 9
Fires destroyed the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, displacing the more than 12,000 inhabitants – mostly Afghan refugees.
September 14
Chancellor Merkel, European Council President Michel, Commission President von der Leyen, and Chinese President Xi Jinjing met for a “quadrilogue” video conference in place of the postponed Leipzig summit. Following the mini-summit, Merkel admitted that European perspectives on China were not yet fully unified even though she, along with Michel and von der Leyen, were able to move Europe closer to a united foreign policy vis-a-vis China.
September 15
In a speech at the European Parliament plenary, EU High Representative Borrell told MEPs that the European Union did not recognize Alexander Lukashenko as president of Belarus.
September 16
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her first State of the European Union address to the European Parliament. In the speech, she articulated her Commission’s intent to help build a world Europeans want to live in, pushed for more decisiveness in foreign policy through qualified majority (instead of unanimity) voting, and laid out plans to give the European Union greater capacity to respond to health crises in light of the suffering caused by the coronavirus.
September 16
In the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the Moria refugee camp, Germany decided to take 408 refugee families – over 1,500 people – in addition to at least 100 unaccompanied minors.
September 20-21
Italians voted in a constitutional referendum to reduce the number of members of parliament to 600 from 975 – a proposal from the populist Five Star Movement, which otherwise underperformed in regional elections.
September 21
In an open letter, over 50 former presidents, prime ministers, foreign and defense ministers from 20 NATO countries, and two former NATO secretaries-general called for disarmament and asked their countries to sign the 2017 U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
September 21
After Cyprus blocked EU sanctions against Belarus by tying them to restrictive measures against Turkey, EU High Representative Borrell admitted at a news conference that the European Union’s credibility was “at stake” due to the bloc’s failure to impose sanctions against Belarus.
September 22
After a four-year hiatus, Greece and Turkey agreed to start the 61st round of exploratory talks within 14 years in an attempt to resolve conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean.
September 23
The European Commission released its revised proposal for migration policy. Despite placing an emphasis on solidarity, the plan does not include the controversial mandatory redistribution of asylum seekers across the bloc, focusing instead on protecting external borders and accelerating returns of rejected asylum seekers.
September 23
President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election in November, saying “We’re going to have to see what happens […] You know, I’ve been complaining about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster.”
September 24
In an address to the U.N. General Assembly, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said that Cyprus is committed to reunification talks with estranged Turkish Cypriots, specifying however that “For the talks to resume with realistic prospects for success, it is imperative to create an environment which will be conducive for constructive and good faith negotiations… not under conditions of intimidation or threats.”
September 24
In a letter to EU High Representative Borrell, the EPP group in European Parliament expressed alarm at reports in the Spanish media about a “semi-official high-level mission sent by you to Caracas, to negotiate with [Venezuela’s President] Nicolás Maduro.” The group stressed their belief that “this decision represents a substantial weakening of the political positions held by the European Union with respect to the Venezuelan regime.”
September 25
The European Council approved €87.4 billion in financial support to 16 member states in the form of EU loans under SURE, a temporary EU instrument to mitigate unemployment during the COVID-19 crisis – an “expression of Union solidarity.”
September 27
In a referendum, Swiss voters rejected a proposal to limit migration from EU member states and terminate an existing agreement on free movement of people.
September 27
Violence erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving hundreds dead. The ethnic conflict dates back to 1988, when the region sought independence from Azerbaijan, and has resulted in over twenty-five thousand deaths and the displacement of a million people over the past three decades. Turkey’s and Russia’s involvement, backing Azerbaijan and Armenia respectively, would compound the threat to regional security.
September 28
In a speech, European Council President Charles Michel defended the European Union’s unanimity requirement for foreign policy decision-making, saying that it “leads to constant efforts to weld the member states together.”
September 29
In a debate with students at the University of Vilnius, Lithuania, President Macron called on Europe to take on a more independent geopolitical role and avail itself of its reliance on American weapon systems. “We cannot accept to live in a bipolar world made up of the U.S. and China,” he stressed.
September 29
The United Kingdom and Canada imposed sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and other officials over accusations of the Belarusian government’s rigged elections and violence against protestors. They were one of the first Western countries to do so, acting before the European Union.
September 29
President Trump and his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, faced off in the first of three planned presidential debates. President Trump would test positive for COVID-19 on October 1, raising concerns that he was contagious on the debate stage.
September 30
The U.K.’s Internal Market Bill, which would override aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement struck with the European Union and break international law, passed the House of Commons by a margin of 340 to 256. 20 Conservative MPs, among them former Prime Minister Theresa May, abstained.
September 30
The European Union released its 2020 Rule of law report – part of the European Rule of Law Mechanism – which assesses developments across the bloc, in addition to examining the situation in each member state and identifying key problems and best practices.


Europe on the line

Between July 1 and September 30, 2020, President Trump spoke on the phone with French President Macron three times (July 20, August 7, August 14), Turkish President Erdoğan three times (July 14, August 12, August 26), Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis twice (both on August 26), Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán once (September 10), and Russian President Putin once (July 23). He did not speak with European Commission President von der Leyen or European Council President Michel in that time frame.

A graphic showing calls between President Trump and various European leaders.We track Trump’s phone calls with the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, whether they have spoken or not, as well as other calls with European leaders of which we are aware. The White House stopped releasing readouts of the president’s calls with foreign leaders in July 2018. If we’ve missed a conversation, please give us a ring. Sources: U.S. Embassy in Libya and press reports.


We began our quarterly polling on the state of U.S.-EU functional relations (overall relations, political relations, security relations, and economic relations) and bilateral relations with key member states in September 2018, midway through President Trump’s first term. Since then, our pool of experts has remained remarkably consistent in its assessment of the health of these relations. Trans-Atlantic relations, viewed either functionally or as bilateral relationships, have been in bad shape, yet persisted above a critical range where political life support would be required.



Trans-Atlantic security relations have endured a series of shocks: from contentious accusations, like when President Trump called Germany a “captive of Russia” at the July 2018 NATO summit, to surprising reversals, like the United Kingdom’s decision to ban Huawei from its 5G network after extensive U.S. pressure. Yet, our experts’ scores never strayed higher than 4.7 out of 10, nor lower than 3.5, indicating that relations were consistently bad but not yet in critical danger. Assessments of political relations between the United States and Europe followed a similar line. Despite such low points as President Trump canceling a trip to Denmark over an apparent snub of his musings regarding buying Greenland, or Europeans constructing an alternative trade mechanism, INSTEX, in an effort to uphold the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, political relations have also consistently tracked an average of 3.4 out of 10 – never dipping below 3 and never rising to 4.



U.S. bilateral relations with key European partners have shown a similarly stubborn rigidity since our first iteration of the Scorecard. Despite a small boost in U.S.-U.K. relations following the December 2019 parliamentary elections that gave Prime Minister Johnson a mandate to, in his words, “get Brexit done,” an outcome that President Trump supported, U.S.-U.K. ties deteriorated back to the norm over the subsequent months.


Next to U.S.-Russian relations, U.S.-German relations have consistently been the most damaged during the Trump era. In keeping with the frosty relationship between President Trump and Chancellor Merkel, U.S.-German relations sputtered along steadily at around 3.3 or 3.4 out of 10. President Trump’s surprise summer 2020 announcement of a redeployment of U.S. troops away from Germany proved, however, that the relationship was not immune to further deterioration, briefly causing our experts’ rating to drop to 2.7.


Yet even in cases where President Trump has expressed an affinity for a country’s leader, as with Russia’s President Putin or Turkey’s President Erdoğan, foreign policy realities and diverging agendas have continued to mar U.S. bilateral relations with both countries. That said, President Trump’s courtship of Presidents Erdoğan and Putin may have salvaged the U.S.’s bilateral relationships with Turkey and Russia from foreign policy near-death experiences, like the ongoing drama involving Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missiles, or the string of high-profile Russian-linked assassinations or assassination attempts in Europe over the past two years.


At their current pace, trans-Atlantic relations look set to end 2020 in much the same place that they began when we first ran our survey: a steady state of bad with little prospect for significant improvement. However, this result also reveals that the traditional trans-Atlantic linkages run so deep that not even the violent shocks and policy reversals of President Trump’s first (and perhaps only) term could damage them much further. But, as many of the experts in our survey noted, the current tensions could become a permanent feature of the relationship should President Trump win re-election. In which case, our theory of trans-Atlantic relations being durable enough to resist most shocks without breaking might be tested.

What to Watch

Center on the United States and Europe Director Thomas Wright lays out events, issues, and potential developments to watch for in the months ahead.


I am delighted to share with you the eighth edition of the Trans-Atlantic Scorecard, a quarterly evaluation of U.S.-European relations produced by Brookings’s Center on the United States and Europe, as part of the Brookings – Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative.


We are releasing our October scorecard on the eve of a historic U.S. presidential election, with the pandemic worsening on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, President Macron has declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in several major cities, while Chancellor Merkel and Germany’s state minister presidents agreed to restrictions on social gatherings and domestic travel. In the United States, President Trump’s long-standing aversion to public safety measures surrounding the pandemic resulted in a coronavirus outbreak at the White House, throwing the final weeks of the campaign into disarray.


A few points from this iteration of the survey are worth highlighting.


Overall, U.S.-European relations have remained deeply strained but steady, with slight ticks upward or downward in only a few areas. Facing a historic presidential election – the potential outcome of which could set the United States and Europe on dramatically different paths – a “wait-and-see” mood combined with a sense of anxious optimism regarding the prospect of a Biden administration has descended on the trans-Atlantic relationship.


This iteration of the Scorecard takes a retrospective look at the impact the past four years have had on trans-Atlantic relations. Overall, through two years of Scorecards, a stubborn malaise has characterized the trans-Atlantic relationship throughout the Trump era, both in times of diplomatic crisis and rare moments of unity.


Our survey pool was divided over the effects of President Trump’s approach to defense spending and his ambiguous posture toward the U.S.’s commitment to NATO’s Article 5. 50% agreed that Trump’s behavior had led to improved European defense capacities, or at least accelerated existing trends, while 40% disagreed and 10% remained neutral. Roughly 68% thought that the damage caused to multilateral cooperation on key global challenges could be reversed if Trump were not reelected. Finally, roughly 68% of our respondents thought that Europe and the United States had converged significantly over the past four years in how they view China, perhaps despite the best efforts of the Trump administration.


As we look ahead to the last months of 2020, the U.S. presidential election is key. While observers had prepared for a long legal slog to determine the outcome, the growing polling gap between Vice President Biden and President Trump suggests that a timely and decisive outcome could be possible. Should he lose, we’ll be watching out for what a scorned President Trump might do to secure his post-presidential future during the lame duck period. Finally, we’ll also be watching how Europe and the United States continue to cope with COVID-19 and its accompanying toll on our economies and democracies during what promises to be a difficult winter.


Be healthy and well.

Trans-Atlantic Scorecard maintained by Agneska Bloch, Sam Denney, Caroline Klaff, and Filippos Letsas. Additional research by Gibbs McKinley and Chloe Suzman. Digital design and web development by Eric Abalahin, Abigail Kaunda, Yohann Paris, Rachel Slattery, and Cameron Zotter.