Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the international challenges shaping Europe's role in the world.
Jonas Parello-Plesnersenior policy fellow European Council on Foreign Relations
No. Europeans follow developments in the United States with keen interest, including elections. Notwithstanding time difference, millions of Europeans stayed up last night watching the election results, which secured Obama four more years, filter in –. There is more enthusiasm for American elections than for many European ones, including elections for the European Parliament.
In 2008, Europeans were exuberant over Obama’s victory—believing firmly in the change he heralded. This time, most Europeans—87 percent in Germany and 67 percent in France—would still have voted for Obama, although the enthusiasm has waned. During the last four years, realism set in while Obama increased the war on terror with further drone attacks and kept the lights on in Guantanamo.
Still, the other candidate, Romney, never got around to endearing himself to Europeans and instead managed to annoy many with smirky comments on Europe as a failed social model.
The United States is Europe’s largest trading partner and by far the largest partner when it comes to direct investments. Thus, it also matters to European business interests if President Obama manages to get the American economy back on track and reduces the blood-red numbers in the budget. This interdependence between the United States and the EU is slightly overlooked with all the talk of China.
America is also where Europeans still look to for new trends and innovation, be it Ipad minis or the impact of social media on democracy—more than 28 million tweets were sent during Michelle Obama’s convention speech—and European communication experts flock in to catch the newest fads.
However, Europeans’ single-minded focus on the United States as the navel of the universe might lead to a certain myopia when it comes to positioning Europe in an Asian Century. Look at the much less European interest in what happens beneath the surface in China. China is also changing leaders in the coming weeks, and not only for four years, but for a whole ten year period. That means that the new Chinese leadership can be likely, at the end of term, to preside over the world’s largest economy.
Europeans continue to hold a penchant for elections in the United States, but much less so to the selection of leaders in China—admittedly, despite the Bo Xilai case spicing things up this time, the Chinese also make that selection process boring and opaque. Nonetheless, for both Americans and Europeans, developments in China will be a defining aspect of the future in the coming decades and beyond. At ECFR we try to give some of the blueprints in our upcoming publication China 3.0.
Almut MöllerGerman Council in Foreign Relations (DGAP), Berlin
Looking at the sheer amount of U.S. election events dotted around the city, Berlin looks rather keen these days. The transatlantic friendship is still a serious business in a country that owes so much to US engagement.
However, I want to briefly point out two observations: First, it seems to me that the transatlantic community here is aging, and second, German views on how to run successful and sustainable economies in the globalized world drifted further apart from American views in the course of the euro crisis.
On the transatlantic community: While the US is still a major point of reference for students or young professional Germans interested in international relations, many of them will now pursue other opportunities, first and foremost at universities in Europe. Intra-European mobility has been on the rise since German universities started to tune into the world of bachelors and masters degrees, and with European mobility programs such as ERASMUS launched in the late 1980s. Thus, these young Germans’ window to the world is not framed through exposure to the transatlantic community. They will instead start looking at global developments through Europeanized eyes. Does that make them more indifferent to America’s future? Not necessarily.
My observation is that it is still widely acknowledged that of course America matters, and that its domestic development in both economic and political terms will have an impact on Europe and the world. But as the lenses of these young Germans are widened to other parts of Europe and the world, they might increasingly struggle to understand the fabric of U.S. society and politics, and the way the US works, despite mastering the English language or being fascinated by American music, culture, or sports.
On the euro crisis: I notice that the pressure continental eurozone countries have been facing over the last years, challenges the transatlantic angle in Germany. It appears the glue that continental EU countries badly need, as they try to find a way out of the mess, is to some extent found in a common enemy: an opaque “anglo-Saxon model” that allows irresponsible gamblers to play around with financial markets, to the detriment of citizens in struggling eurozone countries. Continental Europe seems to feel a boost of identity, despite or perhaps because of the feeling of being in a mess. One will then find the argument that certainly Eurozone countries have to take part of the blame, as their monetary union simply wasn’t built on a solid foundation, and that it was hazardous to adopt the Euro with an incomplete system.
But then, one will hear, this is where Germany has been trying to lead the way over the past three years: new rules, a more integrated framework for economic and monetary policy, and budgets that are sustainable in the longer term—in sum, a mission almost impossible between 17 eurozone members and overall 27 Union members, when financial markets operate on a mouse click, and Europe’s democracies have proven to be slow. In these moments one will find Germans annoyed or even offended by calls from Washington to strengthen firewalls, pull the big bazooka, or happily accept a more interventionist role for the European Central Bank. Leave us our time to do the job our way, and take us seriously in this battle of ideas! After all, isn’t it the U.S. model that is eventually bound to fail? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a good dose of “you will see, we will prevail” attitude to be found at Berlin’s election receptions these days. Who runs America, Obama or Romney, becomes then a question of minor importance.
Gianni Riottamember of the Council on Foreign Relations
Are European’s indifferent to America’s future? No less than Americans are oblivious to Europe's fate. I have been shuttling back and forth over the Atlantic for over 30 years now and I have never noticed more indifference toward the European Union in America. The EU was not even mentioned in the foreign policy debate between Obama and Romney. At best silence, at worst insults: in the Republican primaries "European" was often hurled as a derogatory term. It's a mistake on both counts. The transatlantic economy is linked, difficult to untangle, despite what president Hollande or the Republican party may wish. So we better wake up soon or the Pacific area of influence will soon tsunami us.
Stephen F. Szaboexecutive director at GMF, Transatlantic Academy
As an American it is presumptuous for me to speak for Europeans, but I would be very surprised to learn that Europe is indifferent to America’s Future. The recent Transatlantic Trends public opinion survey found that around six out of every ten Europeans believe that the United States is the most important region of the world for Europe, compared to about three in ten who picked Asia. About half of the Europeans polled thought that strong U.S. leadership in world affairs is desirable and that NATO is still essential for their countries security. Europeans still believe the U.S. counts, especially given waning confidence in the EU and the European project. The financial crisis has brought home, to both sides, how interdependent they are and the dangers of economic contagion. It is clear that Europeans would prefer an Obama led America to one led by Romney, and what is striking is how great the gap is between the seven in ten who prefer Obama, to the less than one in ten who favor Romney. This is a warning sign of a major gap in the strategic cultures between Europe and the U.S. In a more normal time, Europeans and Americans would split more evenly in their partisan and ideological preferences. While Europe is relatively united, America is polarized, and Europe is clearly on the democratic or blue side of the divide. It is probably true that this election, and American elections in general, matter less to Europeans than those of the Cold War and Unipolar eras, and there is a growing realization among Europeans that they are more on their own than before, but this does not mean indifference. While this may be the beginning of a post-American world, this does not mean that America does not matter to the rest of the world, and most of all to Europe.