Rewiring the US-EU relationship

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The election of Barack Obama as US president will “seriously narrow the policy differences” between Europe and the US, write Daniel Korski, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), et al. in a December paper.

Obama’s election represents the “ideal moment to strengthen the EU-US institutional bond and to develop a new substantive transatlantic agenda,” it argues. 

To accomplish this, Obama should be “invited once a year to the European Council and leaders should have informal discussions about global issues,” the authors believe. As a first step, they suggest, back-to-back EU and NATO summits should be organised, allowing for increased interaction between the two heavyweights “without rushing towards a formalised arrangement of US participation in European meetings”.

Moreover, President Obama should address the European Parliament before the elections in June 2009 to “underscore the importance of stronger transatlantic legislative ties,” the paper argues.

However, as formal institutions are “unwieldy”, the authors argue that the EU should also “invest in renewing informal institutions”. For instance, the EU and the US could set up other “contact groups” to discuss specific issues, comprising the relevant EU foreign ministers and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana alongside the US Secretary of State and other American decision-makers.

Indeed, smaller member states “fear EU foreign policy being dominated by big countries,” the paper claims. Therefore, it is vital for groups to “include those countries most involved in any given situation, regardless of their size or standing,” the authors maintain.

To add to this, the US and EU could create a joint conflict prevention task force to “coordinate intelligence about developing conflicts, produce joint analyses and propose conflict-mitigating strategies for discussion by US and European leaders,” the paper suggests. 

Ultimately though, “any progress in transatlantic relations should be built on the foundations of a more coherent EU foreign policy,” the authors concede. Rather than wait for the usual pattern of transatlantic relations to be restored, European leaders must develop their own views on how best to “rescue NATO’s Afghan mission, to respond to instability in Pakistan and to counter Russia’s belligerence,” the paper states.

At a time of considerable transatlantic policy convergence, the “absence of a solid framework for US-EU discussion will see both sides miss out on a valuable opportunity for cooperation on shared challenges,” the authors conclude. 

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