Europe has much to offer the White House

With a new US president and an improved EU, 2009 promises to be a decisive year for the transatlantic relationship

This article was originally published in the Financial Times on 5 May 2008.

As the battle for
the US presidential
nomination continues, Europeans are developing an intense interest in this
process – as if they had the right to vote in America. Regrettably, this interest
does not appear to be reciprocated: the subject of Europe,
and of the European Union, hardly ever appears in the speeches and debates of
the candidates.

Regardless of who
wins, 2009 promises to be decisive for the transatlantic relationship. On some
key issues, serious differences between US and European views remain, such as
on climate change, the speed of Nato’s next enlargement steps and the strategic
relationship with Russia.
But it is often overlooked that there will not only be a new US president in
January, but also a new and slightly improved EU, with the Lisbon Treaty
ushering in the first president of the European Council, who will be a
principal interlocutor with the US in 2009.

At this critical
moment, what should Europe do? The worst
recipe is to wait until the next US president tells Europeans what
he expects them to do. Instead, the EU has a rare opportunity after the
election to present to the White House a comprehensive offer of co-operation,
coupled with specific proposals and expectations. It is a useful coincidence
that the EU presidency will be held by France in the second half of 2008.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has already moved to re-energise the
transatlantic relationship and bring France back into the military side
of Nato. France can thus be
a powerful messenger of European interests at a time when the US president-elect starts defining
his policies at the end of 2008.

The EU cannot
expect a warm welcome in Washington
if it is only a demandeur . It should not forget that the US faces tough choices, from the financial
crisis to cutting troops in Iraq
without destabilising the region and leading Nato’s work in Afghanistan.

Here are just a
few ideas to be taken to Washington
this November. First, Europe should promise to do more than in the past in
sharing the global military burden, including in Afghanistan. But let us be
realistic. Most EU governments will not be capable or willing to raise their
defence budgets substantially. But the 27 EU member states could deliver more
“bang for the buck” by eliminating military duplication and creating
defence synergies. Some steps have been taken, such as co-ordinating long-range
air transport. But this is not enough. We should streamline arms procurement
policies and examine savings from eliminating separate military training
programmes and institutions in the EU countries. We were ambitious and
courageous enough 15 years ago to create the euro. Can we not now be the same
again in pooling defence resources more effectively?

Second, Europe
should renew its standing offer to contribute significantly – politically,
financially and militarily – to a final settlement of the conflict in the Middle East. We should link this offer to a firm
expectation that the next US
administration starts leading the Arab-Israeli peace process, beginning in the
spring of 2009. Too much time has been lost since 2000.

Third, the US and Europe should define common positions on
Nato’s future, non-proliferation, Russia,
Iran and Syria. Europeans might gently
remind the US
that having a dialogue only with friends should not necessarily be seen as a virtue.
Denying direct dialogue to a country such as Iran for 30 years is not a virtue

Fourth, the EU
might propose – again – a common US-European position on climate change.
Without that unity we cannot expect China,
and others to come fully on board. Energy and food security will also be key
issues on the transatlantic agenda.

Finally, for the
west to deal credibly with radical Islamism and terrorism, the main
precondition is to regain the moral high ground. The poisonous effect on global
public opinion of Guantánamo and torture, and question marks over the use of
the Geneva
conventions, have damaged the west’s image considerably. Only if the west
unequivocally renews its commitment to international law can we hope to defend
and enhance the universal acceptance of our common – western – values.

If the EU gets its
act together and elaborates on a position seen by the next US administration as helpful,
friendly, clear and determined, a new and better period of transatlantic
relations could be inaugurated in January. This is the historic opportunity
that Europe should seize before it is too


Wolfgang Ischinger is a Member of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He recently left his post as Germany’s ambassador to London to serve as the new
chairman of the Munich Security Conference


The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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