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What next for US-EU relations?

A Note by the Director (Ditchley 2009/10)

15-17 October 2009


Our mid-autumn conference covered classic Ditchley territory, the relationship between the United States and the European Union.  Participants wanted to give the subject the widest possible interpretation, including the American security involvement through NATO and taking account of bilateral relationships across Europe.  So we covered a lot of ground.  We paid particular attention to what was changing after a decade’s worth of the twenty-first century, including President Obama’s arrival in Washington and the likelihood that the Lisbon Treaty would be put into practice in the EU.

This broad coverage was regarded as important, not least because the phrase ‘US-EU relationship’ had lost a certain amount of colour in the public view.  Our discussion included an awareness that ongoing business between the two continents embraced a number of different channels, with the most productive of them being selected, especially by the United States, as seemed most appropriate to the specific issue under consideration.  So where the European Union punched its weight, as it did on economic, trade, environmental and perhaps also development issues, the United States could feel the impact and would deal with the EU as an entity.  On security/defence, where the EU had a long way to go, NATO was the preferred vehicle; but at the same time NATO did not have all the answers.  On foreign policy issues, especially regional ones, it was just as likely that individual capitals would carry the traffic.  We tried to work out the implications of this menu approach, not least for the EU when Lisbon came into effect, as seemed probable in 2010. 

The conference took a close look at evolving trends on either side of the Atlantic and the changes they were bringing.  Everyone agreed that the arrival of President Obama made a difference to perceptions of the US’s global approach.  President Bush had not attracted external support in this area;  President Obama had the potential to do so.  He made the United States appear much more of a problem-solver on global issues, or on the regional issues with a global impact (such as the Middle East Peace Process, Iran, Afghanistan).  This made the European Union more interested than previously in cooperation with the United States, but it also presented the EU with a greater test, because its own problem-solving capabilities were deficient in certain respects.  The Europeans would be put more on the spot because Barack Obama robbed them of the alibi of President Bush’s unilateralism. 

The other major area of change we discussed was the global distribution of power.  The newly emerging economies, particularly China and India, had to be taken seriously as global economic players, and therefore political actors also.  American attention and energy would be expended much more than during the Cold War on the Asia-Pacific region, giving Europe relatively less focus.  Yet the EU had not organised itself effectively on Asian, and other distant, issues and relationships.  This suggested the inevitability of growing competition for American attention.  Participants wondered whether the EU had yet come to understand the degree to which it would be judged on its contribution to the agenda of a more multipolar world.  It might turn into a more brutal environment than the one Europe had become accustomed to over the past decades.  Washington, always more attuned to where power lay in the real world, had an advantage here. 

We recognised at the same time that there were things that had not changed a great deal.  In all the advanced democracies domestic politics had to be a high priority for elected governments.  The EU had not finished with its internal obsessions.  Congress would continue to put brakes on President Obama’s potential for global outreach.  The two sides of the Atlantic were still perfectly capable of disappointing each other if public opinion remained parochial. 

Our debate turned several times to Russia, because it was an interesting test of all these currents.  The Washington-Moscow axis had not lost its bipolar habits on the nuclear agenda, including non-proliferation, and on old-fashioned spheres of influence (even if they were narrower than before, they were still powerful in Russia’s periphery).  The United States looked upon Russia as a strategic player, even if a weaker one than before;  the EU saw Russia as a neighbour, however awkward.  Energy issues covered a mix of these approaches, with EU member states failing to construct a strategic framework for the handling of energy politics, and with the United States lacking conviction on its global energy strategy.  Russia also brought up some significant left-over NATO issues:  missile defence; nuclear and conventional arms control; protection of democracy across Europe; Central Asia; Afghanistan. 

When we looked at the process of transatlantic consultation, participants felt that the importance of the substance did not seem to be matched by the quality of US-European exchanges.  The EU in particular had to realise that, qua EU, they punched below their weight on many components of the current agenda.  In addition, many EU member states, not least the smaller ones, failed to analyse the implications of the à la carte situation described above.  Europeans could be unrealistic and inconsistent in choosing the right gear for a particular issue.  A collective EU approach was sometimes the best choice, but not necessarily on all issues;  nor did the real impact of national capabilities on pure foreign policy issues get taken into account.  Moreover, the EU sometimes left the field entirely to the United States, as was largely the case with China. 

Participants took a particular interest in the EU-NATO-US triangle.  A number of people were concerned that the United States would never consider Europe a complete partner unless it contributed on hard security issues.  It might be healthier to acknowledge that America and Europe might no longer share the same view of security threats around the world.  With every passing month Afghanistan was becoming a clearer indication of that.  The importance of the Article V guarantee in NATO also raised different reactions in our group, with greater priority being given to it the further east across Europe one travelled.  No-one disagreed, however, that the Europeans, including the EU as an institution, needed to give much more careful thought to its security and defence identity.  It was too early to think of ESDI as replacing NATO, but greater European investment in real defence capability was bound to be required.  The UK in particular was seen as needing to make some fundamental choices in this respect over the coming period.

We all agreed that economic issues were a vital area.  This was largely because the EU’s competence on these was much more firmly established.  Where a competence was mixed or unclear, Europe’s institutional performance was much less satisfactory.  On trade, economic and financial business the mechanisms were well established and the United States engaged in a well-practised way.  This had helped consultations on the global economic crisis.  Environmental issues were beginning to take on this institutional firmness, though there was still some way to go in this quarter and Copenhagen might fall short of expectations.  Energy was another area where both sides needed to consolidate a strategic approach.  Nevertheless the global economic evolution, including the input of the new economies and the different flows of investment that were resulting, was a classic area for US-EU cooperation.  This might well extend to development issues, as the Obama Administration was indicating a more systematic approach to the developing world with its four-point agenda of food security, health, governance and rule of law.  The EU had real expertise in these fields.  Above all, a drive for a substantial outcome from the Doha trade round could be built on a well coordinated US-EU approach. 

Many participants thought that this suggested a possible division of tasks between the two sides of the Atlantic.  Certainly it was felt that the EU should not always be looking to the United States for a lead, nor be shy of asking things of the Obama Administration, for instance on climate change or trade.  We were reminded that Philip Gordon, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, had recently given a warning that President Obama’s gamble on multilateralism might not last forever:  if Washington had not seen indications of substantial help from the EU on important issues such as Afghanistan and Iran, it would conclude that it would have to act on its own.  Some saw this as misplaced and one-sided, if the Obama Administration’s rhetoric had not yet been translated into hard results.  Perhaps the amber flashing light should be addressed to the possibility of exaggerated mutual disappointment, when the reality was that much could be done collectively.  It was time to move on from Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

While we were there to talk about the relationship, it was hard to avoid the most immediate foreign policy challenges.  Iran and Afghanistan featured strongly.  Iran was regarded as a case where the EU and the US had combined well in recent times, though without yet producing a satisfactory result.  The real test would come if and when sanctions did not produce the required effect on Iran.  As for Afghanistan, no-one could see a clear way forward without a turn for the better in Afghan politics.  If it was true, as some thought, that Europeans did not see the threat from Afghanistan as clearly as Americans, this would come out as a significant point of difference as the difficulties sharpened.  It was not enough that Europeans should feel they were only in Afghanistan for the sake of America. 

We wondered whether, in the longer term, China might not prove to be as great a test of the depth of the relationship as any.  Europe and America had a shared and strong interest in a rules-based China, but they were also commercial rivals there (as were Europeans amongst themselves).  China’s threat to Taiwan was of deep concern to the United States, but not to Europe.  The way in which the Chinese-Russian relationship/rivalry developed was of great interest to both sides of the Atlantic, but a US-EU alliance to counter Sino-Russian closeness was not regarded as the way forward.  Out of all these complex areas, not excluding also the Chinese interest in Africa, participants felt that the EU needed to raise its game on China, and on Asian issues generally.  Even if a G2 between the US and China might not materialise as readily as some commentators were suggesting, this was a region where the United States would be most prepared to act unilaterally if necessary.  It was up to the Europeans to build a much more strategic approach. 

This survey of a very varied range of issues and interests underlined the complexity of constructing a powerful and useful US-EU relationship.  It was felt that the EU would be increasingly inclined not to make decisions just to  please the US, as was certainly the case in the other direction.  Yet there were real shared interests which had not attracted the effective institutional machinery they deserved.  There might be benefit at least in creating an understanding, in a changing and unpredictable world, that if the two sides had to differ on occasions they would at least do their best not to undercut each other in vital areas. 

We nevertheless tried to be constructive in our conclusions, taking optimism from the indications that both the United States and Europe had learnt some lessons from the recent past.  The relationship could not, in a more multipolar world, attempt to settle the global agenda for everyone, as a US-EU hegemony would be resented and resisted.  But we did seem to be underestimating the extent to which the two sides were in the same place on substance, even if processes and structures were deficient.  Hence:

·  A more conscious effort was needed on US-EU docking arrangements.  EU member states would do well to implement Lisbon with political momentum, not resist it on a national basis.  It was suggested that, once Lisbon was in force, the EU Ambassador in Washington might regularly accompany member states’ leaders on their Washington calls.  Germany was seen as having less difficulty with such a proposal than the UK and perhaps France.

·  The Europeans needed to draw clearer conclusions from the spectrum of competencies in the EU.  For a healthy transatlantic dialogue, Europe and the EU could not be elided on all the issues.  Lisbon would at least deter the European Commission and member states from contradicting each other on foreign and security policy issues; but the EU would still need to understand where it did not hold the institutional competence.

·  Trade was an essential area, where we would have wished to spend more time.  If the Doha Round produced too little, North America and the EU ought to consider the possibility of a free trade agreement between themselves.  This was a big challenge, but there could be considerable political benefits on top.

·  It was time to pick up the development agenda more systematically between the two sides, with an especial focus on the treatment of failed states. 

·  Since the rest of the world would be suspicious of a transatlantic agenda, the EU should expand its capacity to mobilise other regions, particularly where the United States found it hard to do so.  This was a thought that could be applied to places such as Russia, Turkey, the next stages in Iraq and Central Asia. 

We regularly came back to the vital point, however, that Europe would never qualify as a full partner of the United States if it did not pull its weight on security issues.  If the two sides of the Atlantic no longer shared a coherent view of the global security threat, the whole relationship would have to be established on a different basis from the past.  Many participants thought that this had to be addressed head-on if a healthy relationship in the new era was going to emerge.  Europeans in particular had to recognise that, twenty or thirty years from now, the populations of European countries would be relatively smaller than those of emerging countries.  No ally of the United States would be in the top ten most populous countries in 2050.  This required the two sides to place an even greater emphasis on their shared interests.

The conference surprised itself by combining an honest and comprehensive coverage of the important issues with a relative note of optimism that the coming period would see a greater realism in the transatlantic relationship.  This constructive approach owed a lot to the deep experience represented around the table, as well as to a Chairman who guided our discussions with a forward-looking emphasis and an eye for the main priorities.  The American Ditchley Foundation is to be thanked for promoting a timely exchange. With the next US-EU summit only weeks away at the beginning of November, encompassing an agenda mixing many of the issues we discussed, we will soon have evidence of where the next period is heading.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


PARTICIPANTS

Chairman  : Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger
Global Head of Governmental Relations, Allianz SE, Munich (2008-);  Chairman, Munich Security Conference (2008-).  Formerly:  German Foreign Service (1975-2008);  Ambassador of Germany to the UK (2006-08);  Ambassador to the United States (2001-06);  Deputy Foreign Minister, Federal Foreign Office, Berlin (1998-2001);  Director-General for Political Affairs (1995-98);  Director, Policy Planning Staff, Federal Foreign Office, Bonn (1993-95).

BELGIUM/UNITED KINGDOM
Mrs Vivien Haig

Executive Director, European Union/Hong Kong Business Cooperation Committee (1997-);  Director General, Transatlantic Policy Network (1992-).
Mr David Rennie
European Union Correspondent and Charlemagne Columnist, The Economist, Brussels (2007-).

CANADA
Dr Peter Boehm

Canadian Diplomatic Service;  Ambassador of Canada to Germany.  Formerly:  Assistant Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa;  Minister, Canadian Embassy, Washington DC;   Ambassador to the Organization of American States.

CANADA/UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Professor Colin Campbell

Professor of Political Science (2002-) and Canadian Research Chair in US Government and Politics, University of British Columbia (2002-09);  Visiting Professor to US Studies Center, University of Sydney (2009-).

EUROPEAN COMMISSION/AUSTRIA
HE Benita Ferrero-Waldner

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy (2004-).  Formerly:  Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria (2000-04);  State Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1995-2000);  UN Chief of Protocol (1993-95).

FRANCE
Mr Jacques Andréani

President, US Section, France-Amériques Association, Paris.  Formerly:  Professor of International Relations, LUISS University, Rome (2000-05), SAIS-Johns Hopkins University Bologna Center (1997-98).
Ms Catherine Boullay
Journalist, Foreign Desk, Europe1 Radio, Paris (2005-).
Professor Frédéric Bozo
Professor, Sorbonne (University of Paris III, Department of European Studies), Paris.  Formerly:  Senior Fellow, Norwegian Nobel Institute, Oslo (2007 and 2002);  Associate Researcher, French Institute for International Relations (1988-2006).
Ambassador Eric Chevaillier
Ambassador of France to Syria (2009-).  Formerly:  Ministry Spokesman and Special Adviser to the Foreign Minister, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2002-09).
Mr Thomas Ferenczi
Journalist and Historian, Paris.  Formerly:  Editor and Brussels Bureau Chief, Le Monde.

GERMANY
Mr Christoph Eichhorn

Minister for Political Affairs, German Embassy, Washington DC.
Dr Volker Stanzel
German Diplomatic Service (1979-);  Political Director, German Federal Foreign Ministry (2007-)
Professor Michael Stuermer
Chief Correspondent, Die Welt and Welt am Sonntag (1998-);  Professor Emeritus of Medieval and Modern History, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg (1973-);  Member, German Advisory Council, J P Morgan Ban (1990-).  Author.

POLAND
Mr Witold Sobkow 

Political Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Warsaw (2008-);  Ambassador, Department for Foreign Policy Planning (2007-).

UKRAINE
HE Mr Kostyantyn Gryshchenko
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (2008-);  First Deputy Secretary, National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (2008-).

UNITED KINGDOM
The Rt Hon Lord Ashdown

Life Peer (2001-).  Formerly:  High Representative of the International Community and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzogovina (2002-06);  Member of Parliament, Liberal Democrats (1988-2001);  Leader, Liberal Democrats (1988-99).
Mr Ian Bond CVO
HM Diplomatic Service, Counsellor, Foreign and Security Policy Group, British Embassy Washington (2007-).  Formerly:  Ambassador to Latvia (2005-07).
The Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP
Member of Parliament, Liberal Democrat, Fife North East (1987-).  Formerly:  Liberal Democrat Party Leader (2006-07).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr David Frost CMG
HM Diplomatic Service (1987-);  Director for Strategy and Policy Planning, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) (2008-).  A Member of the Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Roger Golland
HM Diplomatic Service (1978-);  Counsellor, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2001-).  Formerly:  Counsellor, Brussels (1998-2001).
Mr Charles Grant
Co-Founder and Director, Centre for European Reform (1996-);  Board Member and Trustee, British Council (2002-);  Member, International Council, Terra Nova;  Advisory Board Member, Moscow School of Political Studies.  A Member of the Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Ian Kearns
Senior Fellow, Royal United Services Institute, London;  Media Commentator.  A Member of the Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation.
Ambassador Julian King CMG
HM Diplomatic Service (1985-);  Ambassador to Ireland (2009-).  Formerly:  Head of Cabinet to Commissioner for Trade, European Commission (2008-09).
Mr David Lidington MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative) for Aylesbury (1992-);  Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (2007-).
Dr Edwina Moreton OBE
Diplomatic Editor and Deputy Foreign Editor, The Economist.  A Member of the Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation. 
Dr Robin Niblett
Director, Chatham House, London (2007-).  A Member of the Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Jonathan Paris
Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council of the United States;  Associate Fellow, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London;  Consultant, National Intelligence Council, Washington DC.
Mr John Rankin
HM Diplomatic Service (1988-);  Director Americas, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) (2008-).
Mr Philip Stephens
Associate Editor and Senior Commentator, Financial Times.  Author.  A Governor and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.

UNITED KINGDOM/FRANCE/GREECE
Professor Kalypso Nicolaïdis

Professor in International Relations, University of Oxford;  Member, Reflection Group on the Future of Europe, 2020-30.

UNITED NATIONS ASSOCIATION/UNITED KINGDOM
Lord Hannay GCMG CH

Chairman, United Nations Association of the United Kingdom (2006-);  Independent Member, House of Lords (2001-);  Member, EU Select Committee, House of Lords (2002-06, 2008-).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Dr Christopher Davis
US Foreign Service;  Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs, US Mission to the European Union (2008-).
Mr Robert G Kaiser
Associate Editor and Senior Correspondent, The Washington Post (1998-).  A Member of the Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation.  Author.
Mr Stephen Kaplan
Vice Chairman, National Intelligence Council.
Dr Charles Kupchan
Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations;  Professor, International Affairs, Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of Government, Georgetown University.
Ambassador John Negroponte
Vice Chairman, McLarty Associates, Washington DC;  Lecturer on National Security and Diplomatic Practice, Yale University;  Chairman, Council of the Americas/America Society.  Formerly:  Deputy Secretary of State, US Department of State, Washington DC.
Ambassador Thomas R Pickering
Vice Chairman, Hills & Company, Washington DC;  Consultant, The Boeing Company.  Formerly:  Senior Vice-President International Relations and Member, Executive Council, The Boeing Company (2001-06);  Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, US State Department (1997-2000).  A Member of the Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Ambassador Steven Pifer
Visiting Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe, Foreign Policy Studies Program, The Brookings Institution (2008-).  Formerly:  Senior Adviser, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA/UNITED KINGDOM
Mr Francis Finlay

Chairman, EastWest Institute, New York (2009-);  Trustee, British Museum (2005-);  Chairman, James Martin 21st Century Foundation (2005-);  Governor, London Business School (2003-).  A Governor, Chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Diana Negroponte
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution;  Member, Board of the Council, National Endowment for the Humanities.  Author.