Towards a post-American Europe: A Power Audit of EU-US Relations


Europe has the US president it wished for, but does Barack Obama have the strong transatlantic partner he wants? As European Council on Foreign Relations analyst Nick Witney and Jeremy Shapiro from the Brookings Institution warn in their report, ‘Towards a post-American Europe: A Power Audit of EU-US Relations', published by ECFR, national governments in the EU must shake off illusions about the transatlantic relationship if they want to avoid irrelevance on the global stage.

With EU leaders heading to Washington for their transatlantic summit on 3 November, Shapiro and Witney caution EU member states: an unsentimental President Obama has already lost patience with a Europe lacking coherence and purpose.  In a 'post-American' world, the United States knows it needs effective partners.  If Europe cannot step up, Shapiro and Witney belive the US will look for other privileged partners to do business with. Yet the report reveals that a large majority of EU member states still believe they enjoy a ‘special relationship' with the US and compete for access and favour as if the transatlantic relationship remained the dominant foreign policy paradigm in Washington.

In the report, published by ECFR today, Nick Witney and Jeremy Shapiro argue that:

Europeans are in denial about how the world is changing. They sense their increasing marginalisation yet cling to the outdated belief that they remain dependent on the US for their security. They make a fetish out of the transatlantic relationship, anxiously pursuing harmony for harmony's sake without questioning what it is good for.

European governments' desires to gratify the US rob the EU of influence. A number of European nations – including the UK, the Netherlands and Portugal – like to think they have a ‘special relationship' with the US which works better for them than any collective approach. They deploy different strategies to ingratiate themselves with Washington in a competition for American favour. The result is a frustrated US and an uninfluential Europe: Europe has 30,000 troops in Afghanistan yet virtually no say in strategy.

The US needs strong partners in a world that it no longer dominates. It knows it can turn to China on the economy and Russia on nuclear disarmament. In comparison, Washington is disappointed with Europe and sees EU member states as infantile: responsibility shirking and attention seeking.

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.

Institutional fixes are not the answer. The solution is not more summits, forums and dialogues. Europeans need to decide what they want when it comes to Afghanistan, Russia and the Middle East peace process and approach Obama with clear objectives. The ‘hobbled giant' that is Europe needs to understand that both sides of the Atlantic will stand to gain from such a cultural shift.

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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