Representing France, Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic and the European Union, the ambassadors highlighted a broad range of political, economic, environmental and security issues confronting their respective governments as well as the European Union and the transition of President-elect Barack Obama.
We face an existential challenge to our very survival in the form of...climate change.
By Ajay Singh
A GROUP of European ambassadors to the United States participated in a roundtable discussion at UCLA Friday to highlight a broad range of political, economic, environmental and security issues confronting their respective governments as well as the European Union and the transition of President-elect Barack Obama.
The ambassadors, representing France, Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic and the European Union, discussed everything from the global economic downturn, climate change and terrorism to nuclear nonproliferation, international cooperation and Europe's transatlantic relations with the United States.
The event, titled "The European Union Today: A Roundtable Discussion with Five Ambassadors," was held in Royce Hall and sponsored by the Humanities Division of the College of Letters and Science, the Center for European and Eurasian Studies, the Department of French and Francophone Studies, the Department of Germanic Languages and the Centre Pluridisciplinaire/Center for the Study of Global France.
"The reason the five of us are here is because this is such an important moment in the relationship between Europe and the United States – a new [U.S.] president is about to enter office in 40 odd days time," said British ambassador Nigel Sheinwald. "And that's important for us because the last few years have seen divisions in Europe, divisions between the United States and Europe – and we want it to be better during the next presidency."
The opportunity for Europe to work with the United States during the current transition in Washington is one of the "three great expectations" that Europe has of the next U.S. administration, said Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar.
The other two expectations revolve around the priorities of resolving the instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan and of working with Russia to achieve some key security goals, said Kolar. The problem, he added, is that Obama's transition team is "very disciplined – they don't want to meet with foreigners until they are in office."
Several of the speakers stressed that tackling climate change is vitally important to both Europe and the United States. "We face an existential challenge to our very survival in the form of the possibility that our world and our civilization will be destroyed within the next three generations by climate change," said John Bruton, the E.U. ambassador to the United States.
Although climate change cannot be adequately addressed by either Washington or Brussels alone, "I am very confident that we can solve these problems, now that the attitude of the administration has changed – not just in Washington but also in Sacramento," Bruton added, referring to California's ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions.
The E.U. has not only agreed to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2020 but wants to decrease them by as much as 30% by the end of the next decade, said German ambassador Klaus Scharioth.
But on many other issues, such as nuclear nonproliferation, Iran and the Middle East, "there is no possibility of success if we don't engage Russia," he warned. "On the one hand, we need to criticize them – tell them we don't agree where we don't agree – but we also need to give them incentives to cooperate because their interests are slightly different from ours and we have to find a compromise."
France, which will yield its presidency of the E.U. to the Czech Republic on January 1, 2009, has enhanced Europe's role in international relations, thanks largely to the creative and energetic "activism" of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's, said French Ambassador Pierre Vimont.
Sarkozy not only indulged in some deft diplomacy with Russia following Moscow's recent invasion of Georgia, explained Vimont, but also implemented urgent measures to contain the financial crisis, while pushing for a reinvigorated international system that integrated some of the world's emerging powers, such as India, in the recent Group of 20 summit in Washington.
Vimont admitted that there were several shortcomings of the E.U. during the French presidency. The most important of these is that "we still haven't got the institutions right," he said, referring to pending ratification of the Lisbon treaty, signed by the E.U.'s 27 member states in Portugal in December 2007 to provide the organization with modern institutions to effectively tackle global challenges.
British ambassador Sheinwald stressed the importance of boosting Europe's transatlantic alliance with the United States "if we want to do anything important in the world, whether it's on climate, terrorism or handling the Middle East."
But that by itself won't be enough, he cautioned. "New powers – China, India, Brazil – are becoming increasingly important," he added. "We have to embrace them, we have to get them on board."