Europe would vote for Obama

But he is not the President of Europe.

Questions:

1. What do you think will change and what will be the same in the US-Europe relations?

2. What will be the main topics that will influence the relationship? What do you think that European allies expect from Obama and what can he actually deliver? Do you think that European public will be disappointed at the end?

3. One of the issues, that makes tension between US and Europe is the war in Afghanistan and share of responsibility Europe should bear. Do you think Obama administration can convince Europe to take bigger part of the burden and send more troops to Afghanistan?

4. Which European countries do you think expect the arrival of the new US president with biggest enthusiasm and which ones are somehow skeptical?

Answers:

Reginald Dale, Director, Transatlantic Media Network, Senior Fellow, Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

1. U.S.-European relations are actually pretty good today. Bush made a big effort to rebuild relations with the EU right from the start of his second term, and there has also been a huge improvement since Sarkozy replaced Chirac and Merkel replaced Schroeder. Over the past four years, the United States has moved much closer to the European position on a number of important issues, such as climate change, the need for negotiations with Iran, the Middle East peace process and the desirability of multilateral diplomacy, for example on Iran and North Korea.

2. It will be a big symbolic success for transatlantic relations when France returns to NATO’s integrated military command at the Alliance summit in April – after all, de Gaulle took France out of the military structure as a gesture of independence from the United States. Even if not much actually changes in practice, the French move should help to alleviate longstanding U.S. suspicions that France wants to create a united Europe in opposition to the United States. It is noticeable that Washington has become much less nervous about an independent EU security policy since France made clear its intentions on NATO. (Also, of course, it keeps getting clearer that there will not be a militarily significant common EU force in the near future.)

A number of things will change. Most Europeans (although not foreign policy professionals) are vastly over-estimating the impact that Obama will have on international affairs and are bound to be disappointed when he doesn’t solve the world’s problems at a stroke by waving his magic wand. Global problems such as the Middle East, Pakistan/Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear program won’t suddenly become easier to solve when Obama steps into the Oval Office, nor will America’s fundamental interests change. It will quickly become clear that Obama can’t solve these kinds of problems just by talking to people like Ahmadinejad. In fact, some of these problems may become even more difficult as those hostile to America test the skill and toughness of the new administration.

Also, there is still a lot of work to do on climate change. The new U.S. administration may not be ready for a major deal in Copenhagen in December, and it is likely to be almost as tough as the Bush administration in insisting that big developing countries like India and China contribute their fair share – that’s to say, tougher than the Europeans.

3. Obama, as you suggest, will certainly want more military support from Europeans in Afghanistan, and most European countries will be extremely reluctant to provide it. If the German Bundestag continues to insist on the caveats that keep German soldiers out of harm’s way, there is nothing Merkel can do about that. Nevertheless, if Europeans want some kind of new and improved relationship with Washington, they will have to make a contribution to it, not expect the United States to do all the work.

There will be another problem for Europe if the now more powerful Democrats in Congress, spurred on by the labor unions, take a more protectionist line on major trade issues, such as possible steps to rehabilitate the Doha Round. Obama showed in the campaign that he does not have the instincts of a free trader or even of someone who really knows how markets work. Many Europeans, on the other hand, would like to resuscitate Doha if possible. In general, Obama sees things in a way that is limited to America. Despite his Berlin speech, he does not have an intuitively global perspective. It is remarkable, for example, how in planning his economic stimulus package he has paid absolutely no attention to global economic conditions.

Another difficult issue may be the U.S. plan to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Obama and the Democrats in Congress are going to be much less enthusiastic about this than the Bush administration and the Republicans. The plan is already on a slow track as a result of Congressional spending delays. But Obama will have to be careful not to leave the Czech and Polish governments out on a limb in embarrassing positions after they have supported the plan in defiance of many of their voters. Obama will also want to win European support for a new attempt to engage Russia, which may prove easier in Western than in Eastern Europe.

4. On the whole, however, Europeans are likely to give Obama the benefit of the doubt – certainly at the beginning – and to do their best to ensure he succeeds. He will start with an enormous amount of European goodwill, as will Hillary Clinton.

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