Obama’s second 100 days in office: Standing still or moving forward?

Now that the pressure of reelection has been taken off of Obama’s shoulders, the whole nation and the world try to identify if US domestic and foreign policies are changing. Have the first 100 days of the second term inaugurated a set of new priorities and trends? Can the aspired energy independence of the US be achieved and how will this affect the President’s foreign policy? What are Obama’s next steps in immigration reform? And will Obama be remembered as the President under whom the EU-US Free Trade Agreement was implemented and the transatlantic relationship strengthened?

IMG_5930To answer these questions, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Brussels office, in collaboration with the Transatlantic Institute, gathered experts on domestic, foreign and trade policy on 23 of April. Richard T. Foltin, Director for National and Legislative Affairs at the American Jewish Committee in Washington D.C., recalled that although the president is willing to go ahead on several key topics, he is facing strong opposition in the Congress. He has been unable to gather the necessary support for his gun control bill and other top priorities of his administration are currently in a deadlock. The immigration law is pending of a long due reform. A new regulation on energy is expected within the next few months. However, Richard Foltin is confident about Obama’s capacity to rally the troops and find an agreement on the Hill about the immigration reform, his energy policy and the budget.

Daniel Mitov, Resident Representative of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Brussels, attempted to distill a doctrine from Obama’s foreign policy moves. What has been characterized as the “leading from behind”- doctrine bIMG_5939y some journalists does, in Mr Mitov’s view, partly reflect the US administration’s change in foreign policy with regard to his predecessor in the White House. Obama has been trying to restore the United States’ strength and attractiveness on the international scene, while at the same time shifting responsibilities to its partners, mainly the EU. This strategy has been successful in Libya, where EU member states, with the help of NATO, took the lead. But Daniel Mitov pointed at the dangers of a possible US disengagement, as it could be observed in the refusal to support the EU’s efforts in Mali.

IMG_5956Even if it might prove difficult to identify a real doctrine in Obama’s foreign policy, a clear Leitmotiv emerges. In the past years, the main goals of the US administration have been to boost economic recovery while reducing public spending in certain areas. The progressive withdrawal from the forefront of international relations might reflect an attempt to cut costs in foreign policy and defense, while focusing on trade in order to support economic growth. The economy has been the Leitmotiv of Obama’s foreign policy, although as Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, Director of the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), pointed out, free trade has not been a top priority of Obama’s administration for the past four years and that it will most probably not become one during his second term. However, the nomination of John Kerry, a convinced advocate of the transatlantic dimension and free trade, certainly is a positive sign. Kerry will push for an agreement between the EU and the US on a comprehensive trade and investment partnership. The partnership would be a real game-changer in the international trade arena, as it will set global standards to which emerging powers such as China and India can be hold on to. Mr Makiyama is confident about the possibility to reach an agreement, especially due to the broad bipartisan support on the Hill in favour of the agreement and the EU’s need to boost its economic recovery. However, he is more skeptical about the possibility to reach an agreement by 2014. This would very much depend on the content and the EU’s ability to overcome divergent positions of its member states, especially France, on certain issues.

Julie Cantalou