What U.S. President Should the Europeans Wish For?
The upcoming U.S. presidential elections are as much about the future of America as they are about the future of Europe. This is evident in the assumptions Europeans make when they inquire about potential candidates and contemplate what kind of American president would best serve their interests.
When looking across the Atlantic at American presidential politics, Europeans debate four key questions. First, should the future president be Democrat or Republican? Second, what if the future president demands that Europe take more leadership, spend more on defense, and engage more of its diplomatic, peace-making and -keeping assets in addressing the existing and rising challenges in its near and broader neighborhood? Third, what if the future president continues to authorize American spying on European allies and push Europe to sacrifice more of its citizens' privacy and freedom in the name of homeland and transatlantic security? And finally, what if Europe does not feature high on the next president's agenda? The American “pivot to Asia” during the Obama administration already triggered a deep sense of geopolitical panic in many European capitals about the irrelevance of Europe and transatlantic relations in global affairs: will this continue?
The most striking and worrying in all the above questions is the nature of their assumptions regarding dynamics of the future transatlantic relationships.
The first assumption relates to the level of continuity and bipartisanship of American foreign and security policy. Europe should know by now that regardless of whether there will be a Democrat or Republican president, American foreign and security policy has an impressive track record of continuity in advancing American interests and values in the world. International military engagement, with or without a UN resolution, can be found under both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations in Kosovo and Iraq respectively, and both the Bush and Obama administrations advocated Russia resets, despite the invasion of Georgia's territory. And despite some nuances, one can find support for TTIP on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. congress. No matter the political color of the future president, Europe should count on a substantive level of continuity in how America promotes its interests.
The second assumption pertains to the continued European reliance on and demands for American political leadership. The last few years, with crises ranging from Libya, Syria, ISIS/Iraq to Russia and Iran, have only demonstrated how misplaced this assumption can be. The "leading from behind" approach is not something temporarily limited to the Obama administration; it is here to stay. It means that the U.S. is not ready to take the lead in any crisis unless its direct security and prosperity are at stake. This type of leadership aims to advance American interests as long/far as they can be advanced. This is not only because the U.S. does not want to, but also because it might not be able to afford it anymore. This "America first" doctrine is about making America strong at home in order to be strong abroad. This is what the American people want. European countries need to get ready to assume more and more leadership to protect as well as advance their interests and values. America will be there to share the burden, but only if Europe will do the same.
The third assumption is that Europe can continue "free-riding" on American military and intelligence supremacy, without increasing the level of European military spending and defense policy integration or without recalibrating the space for privacy and freedom of its citizens. This approach is not a sustainable way to advance European interests, as it has been clearly evidenced by the selective American military engagement of the last few years. Despite the clear U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the Atlantic Treaty in light of Russia's assertive foreign and security policy, the power of this Article cannot rely on one ally alone. It requires clear European commitment and action to increase military spending, pool resources, integrate defense markets and specialize. Moreover, European homeland cannot be defended against terrorist threats with American intelligence alone or without a renewed sense of European balance between freedom and security.
The fourth and last assumption relates to Europe's significance in world affairs. By all available evidence the EU share of global GDP and population is in continuous decline. The EU cannot continue to rely only on its market size of 508 million consumers and its traditional strong partnership with the U.S. and expect to receive the same level of political and economic attention from American political and business establishments. When I recently visited Los Angeles as GMF Marshall Memorial Fellow, I witnessed how far Europe is from the mind of businesses and politicians based in California. The city's port is responsible for more than 45% of all US imports, and California's trade with Europe is four times smaller than that with China. Where Chinese delegations visit the city's U.S. Chamber of Commerce three times per week, there are at most three European delegations per year, which advocate for national rather than Europe-wide business interests.
The U.S. is adapting to the new economic reality of the world and is striving to reap all the potential benefits. The U.S. and Europe are economic partners, but they are also competing for markets. If Europe wants to become more than a "regulatory and holiday land", it will have to shake up its innovation culture. To bring forth firms like Google and Facebook, it will have to be active, pragmatic, and risk-taking. TTIP will be essential, but cannot provide the only answer to maintain Europe's relevance in global economic affairs.
All of the above questions and assumptions reflect the urgent need for Europeans to adjust their understanding of what it takes to gain the respect and trust of Americans. America values risk taking, ownership, action, success and leadership. If Europe wants to matter for America, it will have to prove that it lives up to and internalizes all these key values. More specifically, EU will have to switch from a fragmented follower's passive-aggressive attitude, to a united self- confidence, able to capitalize on the complementary political and economic assets of all its member states.
Despite all the talk about diminishing American and Western influence in global affairs, the U.S. and the profile of its president matters dearly to Europeans. It still has the power to shape their expectations and policy solutions. But Europeans need to move beyond this horizon of expectations and find not what America can do for Europe, but rather what Europe can do for the U.S. Only together can they increase their chances, if any, of making the world more secure, more prosperous, more integrated, more liberal, more innovative and greener. Europeans have everything it takes to shape their transatlantic and global future. They just have to think and act as one.
Florin Nita, a Spring 2015 Marshall Memorial Fellow, is European Economic Area Coordinator for the European External Action Service in Brussels, Belgium.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.