The incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama promises to pave the way for transatlantic collaboration to address global challenges, European ambassadors say.
By Ajay Singh
Left to right: British ambassador Nigel Sheinwald; French ambassador Pierre Vimont; Czech ambassador Petr Kolar; Dominic Thomas, chair of the Department of Italian and French and Francophone Studies; Humanities Dean Timothy Stowell; Musicology Professor Susan McClary; German ambassador Klaus Scharioth; European Union ambassador John Bruton.
THE INCOMING administration of President-elect Barack Obama promises to open a new chapter in Europe's relations with the United States, paving the way for transatlantic collaboration to address such global challenges as climate change, terrorism and the economic downturn.
That was the message from a group of European ambassadors to the United States who participated in a Dec. 5 roundtable discussion to underscore a range of political, economic, environmental and security issues confronting European nations and Obama's transition administration.
The ambassadors from France, Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic and the European Union spoke candidly about the challenges and opportunities before the Western world at a roundtable discussion 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."
Obama's transitional administration wants "more cooperation, more consultation and wants to use multilateral institutions more effectively – and wants to do so on the basis of values and rapport," said Sheinwald. "That's the sort of approach that we in Europe very warmly welcome."
At the same time, Europe is aware that any working relationship with the United States must be based on results, he said. "That means we Europeans have to work even harder to make ourselves more effective. … We sometimes struggle to get things done quickly, to be creative as a community of 27 countries."
Describing himself as a pro-European who is committed to the interests of both England and Europe as well as a better partnership with the United States, Sheinwald said he was particularly focused on energy security, Iran and European defense.
For Europe, energy security is tied, on the one hand, to foreign policy because of the region's vulnerability to unstable and sometimes unreliable sources of supply, the British ambassador said. On the other hand, "it brings in the existential issue of climate change and our determination to liberalize, to create competition and better interconnections in our own energy market," he added.
On the issue of Iran's nuclear program, France, Germany and Britain had sought five years ago the cooperation of the United States and Russia to conduct negotiations that are still underway, Sheinwald explained. "We've got a policy – a dual track of pressure on the one hand, and openness and the offer of better relations with Iran on the other," he said. "We're sure that's the right overall approach. But at the same time we know that those [nuclear] centrifuges [in Iran] are still spinning, and so we have some decisions and choices in the difficult months ahead."
The E.U. has undertaken as many as 20 missions over the past 10 years to expand and improve on European defense, said Sheinwald. The initiative's current phase has had its "ups and downs," he added, "but there's huge opportunity in that area as well."
The opportunity for closer ties between Europe and the United States is one of the "three great expectations" that Europe has of the Obama administration, said Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar. The other two revolve around ending the instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and working with Russia to realize some vital security goals, said Kolar. So far, Obama's transition team has been "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 the United States or the E.U. 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.
Europe and the United States must find "an agreed formula" on how to tackle climate change, said German ambassador Klaus Scharioth. "If we don't do it, we have not the slightest chance of convincing the Chinese and the Indians and the Brazilians or anybody else." For its part, 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.
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," Scharioth warned. "On the one hand, we need to criticize them … 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."
Poverty is another imperative for Western nations, not least because a billion people "go to bed hungry, and 2 billion live below the poverty line," Scharioth said. "We have to tackle it because we can't allow failing states to fail. We can't allow further unrest because it will all come to us."
France, which will hand over the presidency of the E.U. to the Czech Republic on Jan. 1, 2009, has positively reoriented Europe's position in international relations, thanks largely to the creative and energetic "activism" of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said French Ambassador Pierre Vimont.
Sarkozy not only proved to be a skillful diplomat with Russia, following Moscow's recent invasion of Georgia, explained Vimont, but also unveiled an audacious stimulus package to stimulate France's faltering economy, 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 there were several lapses in the E.U. during the French presidency. For one, "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.
"We believe that if we want to do anything important in the world, whether it's on climate, terrorism or handling the Middle East, we need strong cooperation between Europe and the United States," said British ambassador Sheinwald. But "we also know in today's world, that is not enough because new powers – China, India, Brazil – are becoming increasingly important. … We have to embrace them, we have to get them on board."
Europeans and Americans are only 16 percent of the world's population, but they have the influence and the money to make it a better place to live in, urged E.U. Ambassador Bruton. "If we use it together, we'll achieve great things," he said. "But if we operate separately, we will fail."