Jeremy Shapiro, Research Director, ECFR
Susanne Wasum-Rainer, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Italy
Silvia Francescon, Head, ECFR Rome
In 2015, Europe experienced both the costs and the benefits of the United States’ shifting global priorities. Most importantly, it paid a price for relying on the US to protect its interests in the Middle East. However, President Barack Obama has limited US engagement. This reduced role was not matched by increased European engagement in the region, particularly in Syria: the result is that the EU had limited protection against the threat that the Syrian civil war poses to its vital interests.
The EU and US are more in sync on Russia and Ukraine. Germany fashioned and led a consensus within the EU to maintain sanctions against Russia while pursuing a diplomatic solution, and the US not only accepted the European bid for leadership, but also welcomed and facilitated it. Meanwhile, it was also a year of negotiation on other fronts: the Iran deal; the TTIP; the Greek and UK cases.
With the 2016 election nearing, the next president will likely be someone who reasserts US leadership on the world stage. This could include acting more unilaterally on Russia and Ukraine, if the conflict flares up again. In the coming years, the question will be whether Europe can take on more responsibility for its own security, and, if it succeeds, whether the US is comfortable accepting this. If Europe does not or cannot do more, it will be up to the US to decide whether to deepen its engagement in Europe, and on what terms.