NPR logo

EU Leaders Try To Pave Way For New U.S. Relations

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96856016/96867701" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
EU Leaders Try To Pave Way For New U.S. Relations

EU Leaders Try To Pave Way For New U.S. Relations

EU Leaders Try To Pave Way For New U.S. Relations

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96856016/96867701" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

European nations want to develop an improved working relationship with the United States. iStockphoto.com hide caption

toggle caption
iStockphoto.com

European nations want to develop an improved working relationship with the United States.

iStockphoto.com

Memo To The President

In this occasional series, NPR will follow the transition from one administration to another through a series of stories, conversations, commentaries and essays that will outline the many issues and challenges facing the new occupant of the White House. From a broken military to a troubled economy to a National Park Service in need of a major overhaul — we'll provide the briefing paper, the options and the obstacles.

European foreign ministers have developed what they call a "road map" for relations with the new U.S. president. Details of the plan drawn up at a meeting last week in Marseilles, France, have not yet been made public, but it is part of a broader effort to try to ease the transition from the difficult relationship with President Bush to what many hope will be a smoother relationship with Barack Obama.

The question is: After all the anger over the war in Iraq and all the anti-Bush rhetoric, can Americans and Europeans really get along?

Absolutely, says Ulrike Guerot, Berlin director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"I think we all love the United States," Guerot says. "Most Europeans, I guess, would agree with me that we admire it, we love it and we would all be happy to be in California, and to travel through the country and to adore the liberty. But the last administration betrayed much of what the U.S. stood for, starting with Guantanamo. If now there is another dynamic and another person who brings the U.S. back to its own core values, I think Europeans are more than happy to restart fresh cooperation with the United States and to adore it again."

Guerot says her primary advice to the next U.S. president would be to respect international law.

"It's not because you are the strongest and most important country that you can refrain from complying with international law," she says. "Second, take the EU for serious, and I mean as an institution. You need to distinguish between NATO and the EU. If you want something in Europe, you need to work yourself through European institutions because you cannot channel transatlantic relations through NATO alone. NATO is no longer the geostrategic angle of the continent."

Europeans feel that the United States has always liked big, macho NATO, with its guns and its tanks, and has not liked the poor old European Union, with its soft power and its legal initiatives. But Russia's fierce objection to Georgia joining NATO has convinced many Europeans that NATO enlargement — as backed by the U.S. — is simply a nonstarter, whereas EU enlargement may very well be a possibility.

Denis MacShane, a British member of parliament who was Tony Blair's minister for Europe, says he hopes the new U.S. president will listen when it comes to a whole number of thorny international issues, because, he says, Europe is really the only partner in town.

"We can tackle Iran, we can find a solution in the Middle East, we can stop Russia from being a Soviet-style bully, but we've got to speak as one and show that this new America sees Europe as a partner, rather than just as a poodle to be called on from now and then and dismissed if it's not going to walk in the same direction as the White House wants to walk in," MacShane says.

The financial crisis is, of course, high on the agenda, and EU countries have been coordinating ahead of Saturday's financial meeting in Washington. Europeans have received a boost in that their plans to take an equity share in failing banks have now been adopted by the U.S. government.

The meeting of EU foreign ministers last week in Marseilles started to shape some other concerns into an official document, and pointed especially to the need for more coordination of military and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

And there is another crucial long-term issue: climate change, says Karsten Voigt, the coordinator of German-American cooperation at the German Foreign Ministry.

"If the United States is not changing, then the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians will not change," Voigt says. "If Europe and the United States together change their policies, then we at least have a chance that others might follow."

Voigt says that one other important change could take place once Obama is sworn in. He says many European governments eventually came to work closely with the Bush administration out of necessity, despite policy differences and fierce opposition from their voting publics. An Obama presidency, he thinks, will enable European governments to be more in harmony with Washington and with their own populations.