Geopolitics

Have U.S.-Europe Relations Changed Forever?

After Brexit and Trump, Europe is forced to fight back. The precious Transatlantic Alliance may be at risk.

Anto-Trump protests in Berlin on Feb. 4
Anto-Trump protests in Berlin on Feb. 4
Eric Le Boucher

-Analysis-

PARIS — The 2008 financial crisis had forced the European Union and the eurozone to fire back with a new artillery of budgetary and banking mechanisms. "Economic Europe" thus moved further toward integration. The current geopolitical situation will lead it to do the same, in the face of a new emergency, regarding defense policy. Donald Trump's statements against NATO have convinced Europeans of the need to take action on its own when it comes to security and financial policy. And since things are moving very quickly these days, these actions will be put to the test right away.

The recent spike in violence in Ukraine around the city of Avdiivka, located just north of Donetsk, on the frontline in the eastern part of the country, are the first test laid down by Vladimir Putin for Donald Trump's policy of isolationism. NATO military officials are issuing calls for a response. What will the new American president do against the Kremlin's first provocation? And what will Europeans say in the face of this new battle over territory?

The minimum 2% of GDP spent on defense required by NATO has quickly become a sort of "reverse Maastricht." All European countries will have to fulfill this requirement very quickly, starting with Germany. But many more decisions in favor of "integration" will be needed. Everything will have to be put on the table, including the conditions for the French atomic bomb — the only one on the continent — to become the EU's atomic bomb.

So many are becoming openly anti-European.

Still, this military advance won't suffice, given the new international context. Ahead of the Feb. 3 informal EU summit in Malta, another Donald, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, sent a letter to European heads of state and governments in which he placed Trump's America on the same level as "China, Russia or radical Islam."

Tusk wrote, "For the first time in our history, in an increasingly multipolar external world, so many are becoming openly anti-European."

This Donald is right. Never in the last 70 years has the United States been opposed to construction of a more united Europe. There have been trade disputes, diplomatic differences, personal discords, but never a hostility in principle. On the contrary, Washington always found that a strong Europe was in its own interest: First, as an ally against the USSR; then, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, through a natural alliance between two partners who shared the same democratic values, the defense of free trade and the same vision of the world.

Obsolete pillar

Donald Trump is the first American president to openly be against a united Europe. It's a historical change. Why has he adopted this stance? His haphazard nature makes this question hard to answer. But there is little doubt that he detests this complicated supranational construction, this multilateral system in which small countries have their say just as big countries do. No doubt is it also because he sees Europe as a competitor. Trump is the first president not to reason like a head of state, but like the head of a company that he was and still is. In his "America First," all other countries are competitors that need to be defeated, starting with the two biggest, China and Europe.

It didn't take him long to start attacking Europe. Trump declared NATO, the pillar of Atlantic defense, "obsolete." He denounced the nuclear deal with Iran, forged with the Europeans. He denounced the Paris climate change accords. By decree, he also has effectively put an end to the negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). He praised the Brexit victory and received Theresa May to encourage the EU's dismantling.

Finally, though this list will surely grow longer in the weeks and months ahead, he criticized Germany, which he holds, in his simplistic conception, to be the sole leader in Europe: Angela Merkel's Germany, which welcomes refugees when he bans them, which manipulates the euro for the currency to be weak and to sell BMWs to America in place of Chevrolets — which is part of why the Americans' third widest trade deficit, behind that with China and Mexico, is with Europe.

Targeting Germany is not necessarily a fool's game. The new White House trade chief Peter Navarro denounced the euro as an implicit Deutsche Mark that favors German exports not only to America, but also to other European countries. The argument of an egoistic Germany has an audience on this side of the Atlantic too. Trump is denting the continent's unity.

The timing is unfavorable

Europe no longer has friends. It stands against empires, "nationalist" powers that are of a nature opposed to its own. The fight's scope is new because this fight is existential: What will survive the 21st century?

Yesterday's multilateral Europe should quickly equip itself to become a European power, with a set of tools that go beyond just defense. Is that realistic? The timing is unfavorable, with elections later this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, likely to prevent any major initiative.

More importantly, the debate over a united Europe revolves, as we've seen during the British referendum, around small arguments. Unfortunately, if it continues, this will eventually lead us towards European disintegration. Exterior enemies are joined by the masses of interior opponents, who lament all the efforts that a "bad Europe" requires, from high taxes to too many regulations on cheese. Trump, Xi and Putin must be laughing as they watch a continent exiting history.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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