European Council on Foreign Relations

Europe is wasting its ?Obama Moment?

As EU leaders head to Washington for their transatlantic summit tomorrow, an unsentimental President Obama has already lost patience with Europe.  In a post-American world, the United States knows it needs effective partners.  At present, Europe lacks coherence and purpose. If Europe cannot step up, the US will look for other partners to do business with.

The US no longer dominates the world as the sole superpower. It knows it must turn to China on the economy and Russia on nuclear disarmament. Yet Europeans remain in denial about how the world is changing. They make a fetish out of the transatlantic relationship, anxiously pursuing harmony for harmony's sake without questioning what it is good for.

The mistaken belief of most European nations - not just the obvious Atlanticists like the UK and the Netherlands - that they have a ‘special relationship' with the US further distorts the transatlantic dialogue. These member states deploy different strategies to ingratiate themselves with Washington in a competition for American favour, believing that this works better for them than any collective European approach. The result is a frustrated US and an impotent Europe: Europe has 30,000 troops in Afghanistan yet virtually no say in strategy.

The truth is, the US would prefer a more united EU, but expects so little that it cannot bring itself to greatly care. When the EU is hard-headed, as with trade negotiations, the US listens. When it is not, Europeans are asking to be divided and ruled.

For Europe to become a credible and strategic partner for the US, Europeans need to shift their political psychology away from fetishising the transatlantic relationship. European governments need to get over the mistaken belief that their individual ‘special relationships' matter in Washington, and learn instead to act together and speak to the US with one voice.

Europeans will have to discuss big strategic issues - like Afghanistan, Russia and the Middle East - as Europeans, in relation to European interests, within the EU. Instead of merely attempting to persuade the Americans, Europeans need to approach their political differences with the US by negotiating strategic compromises.

The transatlantic relationship is not what it once was. What it becomes is largely up to Europe.

This piece is based on ECFR's latest report, ‘Towards a post-American Europe: a power audit of EU-US relations'.



I haved worked for and with US firms for 20 years and for the past 5 years I lived in Los Angeles.  I read widely and take a keen interest in global politics.  I am English and a passionate European (which makes me as rare a striped unicorn).
The phrase that I constantly hear in ‘little island Britain’ is something about a “special relationship” with the US.  This seems to drip from the mouths of Conservative politicians (I’m a lifelong Conservative) and be repeated by the press.
In my time in the US I never met a single person (and I asked many hundreds) who had heard of this mythical special relationship with the UK.  It is a total figment of a few imaginations.
I strongly agree with this article and believe that it is time for us Europeans to grow up, stop squabbling and present a strong, united front to the big countries of the world (China, US, Russia) who simply do not share our European values of human rights, environmental responsibility and not settling arguments by murdering the people that you happen to disagree with.
Long live and God-bless (yes, I believe in God too) the United States of Europe.  May it stand for values that make a positive contribution to this world.

Mark Bolton | London, UK | 03 Nov 09, 03 Nov 09 EST

Dear Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Witney,

Thank you very much for this very up-to-date and important study. I worked for 7 years in the Czech Republic?s state administration - MoD, MFA and at the Czech Permanent Representation in Brussels. The most of that time I dealt with different aspects of ESDP and I would like to share with you a little bit of my personal observations of the Czech security and defence policy and its approach to the US and the EU.  In general, the US (inside or outside of NATO) is usually seen as only reliable guarantor of our security and ESDP is found unimportant or even harmful to our transatlantic links. On the other side, it is followed by some kind of ?Russophobia?.  The problem is more psychological and generation then one of foreign policy, given by the experience of the time before 1989. For many, the Cold War still continues, only the Iron Curtain moved eastwards to the Russian western border. Abolishment of the US plans to build the radar on our territory as a part of anti-ballistic missile system was seen as a disaster, which the comments in the Czech newspapers compared to the Munich Treaty of 1938. The radar was not seen in the Czech Republic as only a part of defence against ballistic missiles, launched by some “rough” states or terrorist groups, but first of all, as a symbol of American military presence in our country, which would protect us against eventual Russian aggression. For Russian positions in different international security forums the Czech Republic has usually the reaction of resolute disagreement. What ESDP concerns, there are only few people, who deal with it and pay some attention to it. The ESDP is very little priority on decision making level in Prague. Only think, which is all the time repeated, is the necessity of close NATO-EU cooperation. Generally, the Czech approach misses a real content. There was also trend in recent years, when the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic states sometimes just followed the British positions in different ESDP bodies as the positions of the most ‘Atlanticist’ power in the EU. Sometimes happened that the UK had bilateral talks with France or some other power and changed position just before the meeting and those following countries were left stranded. However, they did not learn the lesson and have still the same approach as before. The clear lesson is, that 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, they need finally to mature and do not rely on some “big brother”. They should learn the same lesson from the abolishment of the US anti-ballistic missile plans. The small Czech Republic and medium size Poland should realize that they are not especially important strategic allies for the US. Such relation has even no historical background. Although the Czech Republic has had some important personal relationships and Poland has large diasporas in the US, there are still many more countries in Europe and rest of the world, who have either more historical and cultural links or/and higher strategic importance for the US then these two post-Communist countries. The best way forward is to find more pragmatic and more active approach towards the development of the ESDP and help it lead to common defence, as proposed in the Lisbon Treaty. It can provide these countries with another security anchor and make the EU more responsible partner for the US. They should also start domestic discussions on the topics as Russia or Afghanistan, but the pragmatic discussion, without ?Russophobia? or without the motivation of catching the fancy of the US. Once they do this “homework”, they will be able to contribute more to the larger discussions within the CFSP/ESDP framework, which can bring higher quality to the EU external policy.

Best regards!

Marek Kubicek

Marek Kubicek | Czech Republic | 04 Nov 09, 04 Nov 09 EST

I cannot be more in line with you, dear Jeremy and Nick. We are clearly missing an historical opportunity to be really ourselves and maybe for the first time, meaning being European and European only. Assuming that EU is both the right answer to the tragic past historical time and the right challenge for a brilliant future based on general European interest, we have to take advantage of differences between the two most important pillar of the West. And not to speculate on possible convergence between Obama’s North America and Europe as we are doing now. Comlementarity is always much more beneficial than docilty. The European tendancy is always to try pushing national strategies towards Washington in developping special bilateral relationship. As we have not excatly same interst, values and responsabilities, we have to be able to establish a balanced partnership. Deference, obedience are disaster because we deprive, we despoil our American partner of what we are, i.e. a group of old nations well organised for the future with a very structure based on diversity and unity. That is our common experience and first of all a positive one. How to take collective advantage of positive experiences from the two sides of the Atlantic? For sure, in being able to be different!

Dufourcq | paris | 11 Nov 09, 11 Nov 09 EST

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