In a presentation on June 28, 2007, Stefan Froehlich, a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, assessed the German presidency of the European Union and examined the prospects for an improvement in transatlantic relations. As the German presidency draws to a close, Froehlich said, it is clear that German Chancellor Angela Merkel can claim several concrete successes, including: reaching an agreement with the U.S. that acknowledges the existence of climate change and calls for greater consensus through the UN; clarifying EU policy toward countries on its periphery; and moving the EU out of deadlock over its constitutional treaty.

By agreeing to the core elements of a "reform treaty" that will replace the constitutional treaty that was rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005, the EU under the German presidency has laid the foundation for a more streamlined decision-making process. The treaty calls for, among other steps, the extension of qualified majority voting to new policy areas, the creation of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the adoption of a double majority voting system that will make it easier to reach agreement in an EU of 27 countries. Froehlich noted, however, that agreement on the double majority voting system was only reached after Merkel threatened to move ahead without Poland, which initially opposed the change. As a result of this opposition, the new voting system will only be implemented in 2014 and could be delayed until 2017 if a member state disputes the change. Until then, EU states with relatively smaller populations, including Poland, will continue to benefit disproportionately from the voting system set forth under the Nice Treaty.

Froehlich also cited the creation of a framework aimed at intensifying EU cooperation with countries on its periphery as a significant development under the German presidency. In particular, Germany has set forth strategies to deepen cooperation with countries to the EU's east and southeast under the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) with an eye on supporting reform. It has also placed new emphasis on deepening EU cooperation with Central Asian countries in numerous areas, such as energy, the environment, and transport. Lastly, Germany has highlighted the importance of improving relations with Russia.

In examining the prospects for improved transatlantic relations, Froehlich asserted that EU-U.S. relations are improving but may be susceptible to disagreement on certain issues in the future. An improvement in relations, he said, is evidenced by a decline in confrontational rhetoric, the acceptance (in principle) of a transatlantic market at the U.S.-EU summit in April, and the conclusion of a limited open skies agreement. In addition, Froehlich argued that the U.S. is more willing to recognize the merits of soft power than it was previously and that the EU is more understanding of the need for hard power in certain cases. Although a change in leadership in the U.K. and France will likely favor a more European stance from these countries on foreign policy issues, he said, this will give the EU more weight in Washington and consequently strengthen transatlantic ties.

Possible points of contention in the transatlantic relationship, he said, include Kosovo, the ENP, Russia, energy, and the Middle East. In elaborating, Froehlich made the following points:

• Kosovo: If the EU does not support the U.S. position that Kosovo should be independent, the chances of a Russian veto in the U.N. Security Council are far greater.
• ENP: The U.S. is wrongly pushing the EU to favor change in its eastern neighbors – it does not currently possess the capacity for a "Europeanization" of these countries.
• Russia: While the U.S. pursues a self-interested approach to Russia, the EU is split between accommodation and selective engagement. The EU needs to establish a common position on energy or Russia will continue to play member states off against each other. It can and should use Russia's need to integrate into international institutions as leverage.
• Energy: Energy should be the central issue for transatlantic discussion and the EU should press the U.S. on the related issue of climate change.
• The Middle East: The U.S. should adopt the Iraq Study Group proposals to pursue regional diplomacy and establish benchmarks for the Iraqi government. This should be accompanied by EU efforts to re-engage the quartet in the Arab-Israeli conflict and related disputes. On Iran, Merkel has said the EU should support U.S.-EU sanctions if the U.N. context does not produce results. The U.S. should address Iran's legitimate national security concerns and overhaul the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

At a more fundamental level, Froehlich said, a structural shift in international system after the end of the Cold War has contributed to the recent transatlantic rift and Europe's alienation by the current U.S. administration. The American unipolar moment caused considerable discontent among Europeans and exacerbated recent tensions. In spite of these setbacks, Froehlich optimistically concluded that the U.S. and EU share vulnerability and have more in common with each other than they do with other emerging powers. If they are to address the aforementioned challenges, he said, a truly multilateral effort will be necessary.

Drafted by Mitch Yoshida