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Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Well Done America: Now it’s Europe’s Turn to do its bit.

Barack Obama’s landslide election brings with it impossible expectations of, according to the front page of the Times, “The New World”. In his speech last night Obama promised a new dawn of American leadership based on the enduring power of American ideals. Yet one man’s beneficent leadership is another man’s ignoble imperialism, and talk of universal values and American leadership could well have come from the mouth of George W. Bush. If Obama is to realise the hopes contained within notions of American leadership and avoid the traps of leading without followers he will need to work with Europe, but Europe must also be prepared to fulfil its side of that particular bargain.

Nicholas Sarkozy has pledged that Europe “will find a new energy to work with America”. It needs to. Multilateralism is not just about shared decision making but about sharing the responsibilities entailed by those decisions. And good leadership is not just about bringing others along with you, it is about delegating roles and responsibilities. In the post-Cold War world to date Europe has not given the United States the opportunity to be a good leader because Europe has been a negligent multilateralist – demanding American activism but unwilling to back those demands with significant contributions of its own. The Clinton administration derived very little political capital at home from leading where Europe asked – in Bosnia and Kosovo – and an Obama administration would be wise to demand more from its European allies in return for activism.

So Europe must expand its capabilities, be prepared to contribute, and above all refrain from the kind of petty, electorally expedient ad hoc anti-Americanism that characterised much of the Bush era. In Robert Kagan’s phraseology, if Europe wants American foreign policy to be sprinkled with a touch of Paradise, then Europe will have to bring some Power to the table.

The opportunity is there. Obama won this election, not by moving his party to the centre-right, the modus operandi of Bill Clinton, the great triangulator, but by asking the American people to move themselves out of their political comfort zone. The American public feel that George Bush squandered the goodwill of the world that followed September 11th, and wants America’s prestige restored and its alliances rebuilt. Rebuilding the global financial system is the first major task, an area in which Europe is already possessed of both power and ideological authority.

But Europe should be warned: fail to fully engage, fail to back fine words with the means to help achieve them, and the United States will have little option to continue upon the unilateral pursuit of its interests rather than embrace a shared approach to our shared transatlantic goals. The Bush Doctrine was not so much of an aberration as many in Europe believe, and we would be wrong to assume that with Bush gone enlightened liberal multilateralism will simply fall into being. For that to happen Europe must be prepared to step up to the plate.

Nick Kitchen is a Fellow of the LSE IDEAS Transatlantic Project

1 comment:

Cristina Barrios said...

I agree with your analysis Nick and I think you raised a key question about the European reaction. But I wouldn't keep my hopes too high...
In the first half of 2009, we will be watching out for three aspects to get a hint of an answer, and none of them lets us predict that in Europe "yes we can".

First, the Czech presidency of the Council. After the hectic times and rising waves of Sarko's French presidency, obsessed with leadership and with scoring points (for himself, his country but also the EU), we will be looking at a willfully lower profile for the politician, the country and the EU. Plus, the controversy over missile defense will clearly raise waves, but inside the EU.

Second, the "new" Commission. As the Barroso-Commission from 2004 was supposed to come to an end, rumor has it that we will be up to continuity and not change, with a renewal of Barroso as Commission President. Praised as a non-controversial, virtuous consensus-maker, Barroso is likely to stay in the job so that the EU profile remains low on the international arena: only traditional state diplomacy might make something move, and only when states want it we'll occasionally call it "European". With the Lisbon Treaty on hold to top it all, do not look for an intrepid, enchanting counterpart to embrace dialog along Obama's hopes -we're just getting more grey bureaucracy from grey characters.

Third, European Parliament elections. Yes, they are happening in June 2009...and we'll be happy if we hear about them in our news the week before them. If only the wave of American democracy could reach our shores and get our European parties and politicians to envisage and then share information on programs, leaders, campaigns ...we could maybe target to raise our peoples' interest and potential support for a stronger EU and a more creative EU-US relation.

Three factors that are three "too much": inspired, original leadership with long-term, wide-scope vision; institutions that allow to develop new policies and positions letting ideas move; and a democratic Europe... "no, we cannot"?