Forward with the new (old) President – or four more years of Obama-Dejá vu?

Forward with Obama

The election results of President Obamas victory show that „Republicans didn’t do well with any demographic group but angry white men,” so a speaker of the transatlantic conference “After the US Elections: Perspectives on the future of the transatlantic relationship” organized by the Friedrich-Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit and the AJC Transatlantic Institute. Does Obama’s reelection suggest a shift in public opinion, even an “Europeanization” of values in the land of the brave? Or is Europe again too optimistic about the “change” that “four more years” of Obama will bring?

Ian Lesser, GMF

One thing is certain, panelists agreed, Europe has rarely been as unified as on the question who should be the President of the United States of America for the next four years. Obama’s victory, considered a certainty in Europe, with over 90% of European citizens supporting him in the polls of the German Marshall Fund’s transatlantic trends. Yet the nobel peace prize going to freshly elected Obama in 2009 was a “token of hope, not of achievement”. Our first panel’s key question “are European expectations too high” has to be answered in a strong affirmative. The shining victory that we picture on this side of the Atlantic is misleading. 332 electoral votes for Obama and 206 for Romney paint a pretty clear picture, but in real percentages (50.4% for Obama and 48.0% for Romney) the results are less unequivocal.

Panel I

This also shows that the US electorate is not as enthusiastic about Obama as it was in 2008. The American people are tired of foreign interventions; the country has been hit hard by the financial crisis, economic downturn and several natural disasters. People want their “home” rebuild – both economically and with regards to infrastructure. Yet, the strategic alignment of Europe and the United States has never been greater. Worldwide we face the same challenges and threats and have the same interests. The five top areas of engagement for transatlantic cooperation are the Middle East Peace Process, nuclear disarmament, climate change, Asia and free trade.

The 2013 Elections stood out also because of their particular focus on trade, which has never before been a central issue of a US Presidential Campaign. Our second panel dealt with the question whether free trade could provide the path out of the debt and financial crises for the US and Europe. The panel agreed that the time for a free trade agreement between the US and the EU has come, particularly with regards to liberalization of services, an area where both sides have yet to grant market access. The US is suffering from economic insecurity that may lead to isolationist behavior; the panel agreed that isolationism will not create jobs nor improve the economic situation of the United States. The US and the EU, however, have to get over the idea that they are the guardians of the WTO system. The failure of the Doha round to get the world on board with the WTO system proves that there is no reason for the US and the EU not to proceed with a free trade agreement.

Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, ECIPE

The crisis, however, has stifled the progress made to conclude an FTA. EU trade policy is largely reactionary and essentially dabbles in scoping exercises. Trade policy is like a game of chess, one has to think four to five moves ahead. The US and EU are not playing chess, but checkers! This is due to the fact that both the US and the EU are used to concluding trade agreements with partners based on conditionality-principles, in which they impose their standards and models on the economically weaker trading partner. This marriage between two economic goliaths, however, requires that both leave their comfort zone and accept major compromises.

While foreign and security policy took a back seat on the US campaign trail, current events (such as the violence escalating in Gaza) show that it cannot be ignored and pushes its way to the top of the agenda sooner rather than later. For the last four years, cooperation between Europe and the US has been “strong, almost boring”, “because of the high level of institutionalization.” The atmosphere has been an amicable one, because Europeans felt that Obama showed genuine interest in multilateral approaches.

Harald Leibrecht, MP and Stefanie Babst, NATO

Yet, former Defense Secretary Gates’ public reproof made Washington’s disgruntlement with Europe clear: Europe is not pulling its weight and that goes beyond the issue of defense spending, Washington perceives a lack of intellectual investment on the part of Europe. From a taxpayer’s point of view, it’s an even greater disgrace that NATO and the EU have not found a way in terms of a true partnership, even though they sit in the same town.

Other shortfalls on substantial issues include the failure to agree on a transition strategy for Afghanistan by 2014 and the Middle East Peace Process. The EU possesses powerful instruments for levying soft power in the region (markets, mobility and money), but regretfully is not using them. The EU must prove its worth to Washington, but not to make Americans happy, but to help themselves. “The overlap of strategic interests is fundamental and we have to start thinking about the capacity to protect our own interests.”

Watch a video of the interview “Priorities of the transatlantic foreign and security policy — a new allocation of roles?” with Dr Stefanie Babst, Head of Strategic Analysis Capability, NATO and Jan Techau, Director of Carnegie Europe:

Für Deutschsprachige: Lesen Sie auch das Hintergrundpapier “US-Wahlen 2012: Ergebnisse, Fakten und Aussichten“ unseres Washington Büros.

Programme and Panelists

Hans H. Stein, Director International Political Dialogue, European Institutions and North America, Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit

1. Panel
Ian Lesser, Executive Director, Transatlantic Center in Brussels, German Marshall Fund
Harald Leibrecht MP, Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation, Federal Foreign Office
Fernando Andresen Guimarães, Head of Division US and Canada, European External Action Service
Moderator: Daniel Schwammenthal, Director, Transatlantic Institute

2. Panel
Peter H. Chase, Senior European Representative, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Europe Office
Damien Levie, Member of the Cabinet, EU-Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht
Dr. Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, Director, European Centre for International Political Economy
Moderator: Brian M. Carney, Member of the Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

3. Panel
Dr. Stefanie Babst, Head, Strategic Analysis Capability, NATO
Jan Techau, Director Carnegie Europe, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Moderator: Joshua Goodman, Communications Director, AJC Transatlantic Institute

Susan Schneider