Events

European Politics and Global Ambitions: Challenges in the U.S.-EU Partnership

July 07, 2009 // 2:00pm3:30pm

Dr. Ruby Gropas sought to identify some of the key characteristics that define the European political sphere today, and discuss why and to what extent some of these pose challenges for the EU's actual and potential global role, and for the transatlantic partnership.

Dr. Gropas described several main achievements of the union of 27 Member States and some of the union's core limitations that restrict its effectiveness and impact. She argued that there has been an impressive range of successes over the past decades in a series of ambitious and unique projects, including the reunification of the "old continent" and the consolidation of a democratic peace and an interdependent security community; the creation of a single market and of a new unique hard currency without a country; the establishment of impressive consumer and environmental protection standards that have significantly impacted global trade standards and regulation; the intention and aspiration to develop an effective Common Foreign, Security and Defense policy; an agenda of sustainable development and climate change at the global level; an agenda aimed at addressing the root causes of conflicts and crises as well as a wide range of instruments for conflict prevention, post-conflict stabilization; peace building; grass-root democracy building; equality and non-discrimination. Nevertheless, most analyses are rather grim in terms of the EU's ability to digest today's fast paced changes; rather pessimistic in their projections; and rather critical of its political and foreign policy shortcomings.

In effect, most analyses observe (a) the disconcerting lack of interest in EU matters by European citizens, which raises substantial debates on the democratic legitimacy of the EU project as well as the loss of its attractiveness, relevance, and impact; (b) the protectionist, populist nationalist discourse that is on the rise across Europe that appears to feed off the perceived insecurities provoked by globalization, EU integration, illegal migration and the professed 'crisis' of multiculturalism; (c) varying degrees of euro-skepticism that are framing not only the political extremes at the left and right, but that are also permeating mainstream political discourse in addition to a lack of political leadership both among national political elites and within EU institutions (particularly the Commission and the European Parliament); (d) various forms of 'fatigue' that are 'deflating' the integration process from different directions (i.e. reform fatigue within the member states; institutional reform fatigue; enlargement fatigue; treaty reform fatigue; globalization adjustment fatigue, etc); and (e) an increasing conviction that Europe's political, ideological, economic and military influence and importance in international affairs is gradually waning.

What does this point towards? Dr. Gropas argued that the EU needs to overcome its internal political incoherence and define the role that it wishes to fulfill in international affairs in order to:

(a) Improve its weight in global politics. The EU continues to serve as the best means that European countries have at their disposal to deal with the challenges and pressures of an increasingly fast-paced and extensive globalization process and take part in reshaping the new international system rather than be on the receiving end of these transformations.

(b) Complete its project of unifying the continent in a community characterized by security, prosperity, human rights and democracy, the rule of law and peace. Never before has such an ambitious project been voluntarily attempted by sovereign countries and there are still a number of European countries that are preparing for their accession - this preparation has taken much effort and it has been associated with significant costs - once ready, it is important that these countries accede to a community that continues to represent the security, stability, and prosperity it has represented thus far. This, Dr. Gropas argued, is not a moral obligation but it is a unique vision and commitment that deserves to be carried through.

(c) Improve the relevance, influence and importance of the transatlantic partnership in the rapidly changing international system.
Addressing these issues will permit the EU to constructively contribute to this partnership to both sides' mutual benefit; especially given that America's relative power is also being challenged and is likely to decline in the near future and therefore both constitutive elements of the partnership must be strong in order for the alliance to continue being influential.

In the second part of the presentation, Dr. Gropas discussed today's rapidly changing state of international affairs within which the transatlantic partnership needs to evolve.

Over the past few years, the changes underway in the international system have been described as leading to various forms of multipolarity; where emphasis is placed on 'relative power,' multiple ideological and political cleavages and alliances, and increased interaction between state and non-state actors. More recently, a trend towards an interpolar world seems to be discerned (EU-ISS 2009) which essentially argues that the new world system is being defined by two trends - the redistribution of power or the shifting balance of power on the one hand, combined with growing interdependence on the other given that the prosperity and security of all major powers are more interconnected than ever before. In this context, Dr. Gropas put forward 5 'C's as characteristic of today's system of international affairs:

. Complexity - of issues, of challenges to security and of policy responses due to the interconnections and effects of increased interdependence and interaction (between markets, political systems, populations, countries, networks, identities and communities);

. Competition - for resources, for energy, for opportunity, for markets, for leverage, for influence and outreach, and competition between value systems and ideas;

. Cooperation - where the depth and breadth of current affairs and the degree of (direct or indirect) interdependence between sectors, countries and communities require cooperative solutions since no issue can be tackled and addressed individually - thus the
need for cooperation is ever more pressing;

. Conceptual confrontations - as regional and global powers develop, they are likely to be more outspoken about their world views, values and interpretations - and to react against previously established norms, leading to clashes and confrontations on matters of principle and substance. This may either drive or hinder cooperation, and in any case certainly increases the complexity of any given situation as well as competition for resources, alliances and influence otherwise termed as the 'Battle of Ideas';

. 'Corrosion' of the West's global influence - in other words, this is referred to as the relative decline of the West's global influence; a decline which was proclaimed in political terms during the Bush years by the critics of the previous administration mainly based on Iraq; and one which continues to be proclaimed in economic terms over the past year due to the global financial crisis. While the US and the EU countries seem to be struggling with attempts to manage and overcome the crisis and prepare for future challenges; the so called emerging economic powers are expanding their economic, financial and political influence and significance.

Against this background, the US-EU partnership is as important as ever and a number of practical measures should be considered to further strengthen the alliance and amplify its impact in the changing global scene.

For one, more summit diplomacy may be required between the EU leadership and the US administration to establish more personal bilateral relations. This is important both between the President of the Council (especially given the role the Presidency will take
if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified) and the US President, as well as between the new EU 'double-hatted' foreign minister (belonging to both the Council and the Commission) and the US Secretary of State.

In addition, it also means that many of the strategic priorities and security issues ahead cannot be dealt with through NATO. Thus, a more solid institutional US-EU structure for strategic and interactive dialogue is required on foreign policy and security matters, along with a NATO-EU informal working group to concentrate on future enlargements of both/ either.

Finally, the EU and the US must collaborate closely in pushing forward the agenda on redesigning global governance. The global governance system must represent current global realities for it to be functional and effective. The need to adapt to the new and constantly changing realities has long been underlined for the UN, for the World Bank and the IMF. Changes have to do with processes and decision-making procedures, about scope of action, about strategic objectives and aims and also about membership constitution.
The Transatlantic partners should be able to take the creative lead in guiding the reforms forward on these issues.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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