Let's hear it for the Transatlantic Economic Council

Let's hear it for the Transatlantic Economic Council

Let's hear it for the Transatlantic Economic Council

Written by Philip Whyte, 23 May 2008

View the full insight article here

Economic liberalism in retreat

Economic liberalism in retreat

Economic liberalism in retreat

Written by Simon Tilford, 16 July 2009
From The New York Times

Can the next US president heal the transatlantic rift?

Can the next US president heal the transatlantic rift?

Can the next US president heal the transatlantic rift?

Written by Tomas Valasek, 19 September 2008

by Tomas Valasek

There are two schools of thought on what the election of a new US president will mean for transatlantic relations. The optimists argue that relations will improve significantly. They assume that much of the anger Europe feels towards the US is aimed at George W Bush rather than the country as a whole, and that once he leaves, US-European ties will revert to their normal, friendly terms. The pessimists disagree: they say that US and European outlooks on security are fundamentally different, that the next US president, whoever he is, will pursue a foreign policy similar to that of George W Bush, and that the relations may well worsen post-US elections as the Europeans, disappointed that president Obama or McCain does not turn out to be a multilateralist European liberal, turn their backs on the United States with a vengeance.

So when the German Marshall Fund released its annual Transatlantic trends survey last week, both the optimists and pessimists poured through the numbers in search of evidence for their respective hypotheses. On balance, the results tend to slightly favour the optimists, but much depends on who the Americans elect on November 4th.

The German Marshall Fund asked the Europeans directly whether they think that relations with the US would improve after the elections. Fourty-seven per cent of Europeans said ‘yes’ assuming Obama is the president. The reverse held true for McCain: only 11 per cent thought transatlantic relations would improve with him in the White House. But this reflects Europe’s strong preference for Obama rather than a dislike of McCain. Only 13 per cent of Europeans think that relations would worsen under McCain while a significant plurality - 49 per cent - expect them to remain the same. This suggests that Europe is adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude on the Republican candidate.

Another useful way of gauging the impact of elections is to compare perceptions of the United States in Europe with attitudes towards George W Bush personally. Thirty-six per cent of Europeans support US leadership role in the world but only 19 per cent approve of George W Bush’s conduct in the office. This suggests that the 'Bush' factor reduces the Europeans’ support for the US by 17 percentage points – a percentage that Obama would certainly (and McCain possibly) pick up just by getting elected.

At this point the pessimists would point out that it does not matter what the Europeans think now. A pessimist would say that the Europeans do not understand how much continuity there is in US foreign policy. And that once Europe finds out that Obama or McCain’s foreign policy is more similar to George W Bush’s foreign policy than Europe’s - which it will be - even the most hardened Euro-optimists will feel disappointed.

That is a valid point. Obama’s victory in particular would be bound to generate expectations that no president could fulfil. So after an initial spike in European support for the US, there would come an inevitable decline. (With McCain, the Transatlantic Trends suggest, there would be little excitement in Europe initially, and hence less room for disappointment later if he turns out to be similar to the current president).

But none of this rules out the possibility of a long-term improvement in relations. It all depends on how the new president conducts himself in office. Past US presidents have managed to combine the US foreign policy tradition of assertive leadership with the Europeans’ preference for multilateral solutions and diplomacy. And so, presumably, could Obama and McCain.

Here are a few supporting numbers: in 2002, 64 per cent of Europeans approved of US leadership. (That number, as pointed out earlier, has dropped to 36 per cent today.) The major change since 2002, which accounts for the chill in transatlantic relations, was the war in Iraq. But six years on, Iraq has become a lot more stable and less salient as a political issue in Europe. It could largely disappear from transatlantic debates if Obama wins the presidency: he opposed the war all along, and has promised to withdraw US forces speedily if elected.

European support for US leadership stood at 64 per cent six years ago because previous US presidents have used US military power more delicately than George W Bush, and listened to the European allies a lot more attentively than the current president. That is precisely what Obama promises to do. (McCain says he will listen to Europe more but on some issues like Russia he sounds more aggressive than George W Bush.)

US foreign policy, contrary to the pessimists’ assumptions, is not bound to remain jingoistic - in fact, it has become a lot less belligerent in the last three-four years, during which the US opened talks with North Korea and endorsed Europe's nuclear diplomacy with Iran (for which president Bush, wrongly but understandably, has received no credit in Europe).

To win the Europeans’ hearts, the new president will have to show appreciation for the EU’s new role. As McCain or Obama will find out, Europe has changed much since George W Bush came to power. It no longer instinctively turns to the US when a crisis breaks out on or near the continent. The EU now takes care of most security problems on its own (except for large-scale crises, which still require NATO involvement). This new EU is not anti-American: 67 per cent of Europeans think that Europe should seek to work with the US rather than independently, say the Transatlantic Trends. So if the next US president seeks to work with his allies in Europe, he is likely to be received positively. Support for US’s leadership role would eventually inch up. And optimists among the Europeans would feel vindicated.

Tomas Valasek is director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European Reform.

Comments

Added on 05 Oct 2008 at 20:02 by NickCrosby

I agree with most of what Tomas writes. Another point is the personal style/mentality of the two US presidential candidate. McCain:impulsive, military minded, 'maverick.' Obama: smooth, deliberative, consultative. Both decision modes have their weaknesses. One can lead to 'premature panic' or burning bridges ahead of you. The other: paralysis by analysis. But Europeans will instinctively warm to a consultative style.

Scapegoating the US lets others off too easily

Scapegoating the US lets others off too easily

Scapegoating the US lets others off too easily

Written by Simon Tilford, 02 October 2008

by Simon Tilford

Huge amounts have been said about the consequences of the credit crunch for the US and UK economies. They undoubtedly face major adjustments, and several years of very weak economic growth. There has also been trenchant criticism of spendthrift ‘Anglo-Saxons’ living beyond their means, derailing the global economy in the process. The US is a convenient scapegoat for politicians confronted with economic uncertainty, but it needs to be remembered that a number of European and East Asian economies benefited enormously from the credit boom. Indeed, it could not have happened without excess savings generated by the likes of China, Germany and Japan.

The credit booms in the US and UK, as well as in other countries such Spain and Australia, were not simply the result of poor commercial practices and policies in those countries. They were also the by-product of imbalances in the global economy. The US is regularly pilloried for running a large external (current account) deficit, for playing fast and loose with its currency, and hence for destabilising the global economy. This is misleading. The US did not cause the current problems all on its own. Those governments that believe a rising current account surplus is a symbol of national economic virility and competitiveness played a major role too. Indeed, their surpluses are the underlying cause of instability.

If some countries routinely run huge current account surpluses, others must run huge deficits. German and East Asian surpluses have to be invested somewhere and they got invested in housing and other assets in the US, UK and elsewhere. Criticism of the US Federal Reserve for pursuing an excessively weak monetary policy, and hence inflating asset prices is fine as far as it goes. But low interest rates were needed to encourage enough borrowing to soak up the excess liquidity produced by rising current accounts surpluses. Those condemning the US need to ask themselves where the global economy would have been without the demand generated by the US and other big deficit countries. China would certainly have grown much less rapidly and Germany and Japan would probably still be mired in economic stagnation.

Many in Germany, Japan and China argue that their dependence on the US is declining because the US accounts for a falling share of their respective current account surpluses. What they fail to notice is that the US has still been absorbing much of the liquidity that China, Japan and Germany have generated by running external surpluses with other economies. Furthermore, US demand has stimulated trade between other countries (for example, Chinese purchases of Japanese components or German machinery).

With credit conditions now tight and employment growth very weak, there will be a progressive narrowing of the US current account deficit (along with those of the UK, Spain etc). The governments that regularly criticise the US for the destabilising impact of its imbalances might not like the implications of this process. This unwinding poses a big problem for export-dependent economies. It exposes their domestic imbalances, which are just as much of a ‘problem’ as those of the US. An external surplus suggests that there are inadequate investment opportunities in an economy.

In a European context, it is imperative that the German government takes steps to rebalance the German economy. Domestic savings need to fall and investment needs to rise. Much is made of the competitive ‘gains’ the Germans have made in recent years and how this stands their country in good stead. Improved price competitiveness could help German firms to gain market share in the downturn, but collapsing export orders demonstrate that it will provide only so much support. Steep falls in investment in machinery and equipment and in purchases of cars in most of the country’s key export markets will hit the Germany economy hard next year.

The German finance minister, Peer Steinbruck, needs to spend more time thinking about how to address the country’s exceptionally weak domestic demand. Tax cuts would be a good first step. The German government needs to get over its obsession with fiscal probity. In the long-term, of course, fiscal discipline is a necessity, but at present it risks aggravating an already serious situation. China and Japan faces different challenges, but the underlying problem is one of excessive dependence on exports.

Unfortunately, there is little sign of any rethinking of economic strategy in these three economies. If anything, the problems experienced by the US have confirmed the belief that a competitive economy is one with a big external surplus and rising international reserves. This is bad news for everyone. Unless China, Germany and Japan make a net contribution to global demand, the world really could face a slump. Instead of gloating about the US’s comeuppance they should be considering what will drive their own and others’ economic growth.

Simon Tilford is chief economist at the Centre for European Reform.

Comments

Added on 08 Oct 2008 at 18:57 by Anonymous

Hi Simon,

Thank you for this interesting take on the situation. As a non-economist and lay person, I need help understanding something which you touched upon.

I believe you are speaking on a macroeconomic level with regard to trade and the "excess savings" of China, Japan, and Germany.

Can you tie it to a micro level--on individuals'/households' responsibility in this debacle? Various media talk about the massive savings rate of Japan, and I always thought they were referring to individuals who save by putting away yen in the bank (thereby providing banks with greater liquidity) instead of spending it on gadgets, travel, or what have you that Americans are always blamed for (and rightfully so).

Is there culpability on the part of Americans for their poor personal saving habits? If the US govt had continued with its deficits and international debt, but American citizens had saved a lot in the bank, would the picture today look much different?

In other words, does the average Joe who doesn't have a mortgage but spends more than he earns, using credit cards, etc. play a role in all of this? Or is he one of these "innocent" Americans the Congressmen have been railing on about as of late?

Thanks.

What 'Obama effect' for transatlantic relations?

What 'Obama effect' for transatlantic relations?

What 'Obama effect' for transatlantic relations?

Written by Tomas Valasek, 10 November 2008

by Tomas Valasek

Europe got the president it wanted on November 4th. Obama will have Europe's goodwill and with it, a window of opportunity to restore transatlantic co-operation on key security issues. The list of common challenges includes, but is not limited to, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia.

Whether Obama succeeds or not depends in part on how willing he will be to try out new approaches. Europe will expect the next president to change the substance of US foreign policy as much as its style. On some issues like Iran and Afghanistan, Obama plans changes; on other like Russia he offered few new ideas during the campaign. He will have to think creatively on all fronts.

Afghanistan will be on top of the US priorities for Europe. Obama will put more troops in the country and expect Europe to do the same. And even though all European governments are short on troops and money, many will respond in kind.

But while a 'surge' worked in Iraq, more troops will not automatically be the right approach to Afghanistan. Western soldiers act like a magnet for terrorists from across the region, mainly Pakistan. Obama will need a Pakistan strategy more than an Afghanistan surge. In fact, he should consider talking to some of the current enemies from among the Taliban in Afghanistan, to build local alliances against the most radical insurgents coming from Pakistan.

On Iran, Obama said he was willing to speak directly to the Tehran government. This would be a much welcome change. The EU has been talking to Iran since 2003 but senior EU diplomats involved in negotiations say the talks cannot succeed without the US joining in. They may not succeed anyway; Iran may be far too determined to acquire nuclear weapons. But even so, a US participation in the talks would help build transatlantic consensus on further steps like a tighter embargo.

It is important that Obama does not just talk to Iran without getting something back - he is the last card the West has to play. Talking to Ahmadinejad now could also strenghten him in presidential elections, which is not in the US or European interest. So Obama should show he is willing to talk, but only at the right moment and under the right conditions.

On Russia, Obama will have a delicate task on his hands. Moscow appears determined to divide the EU member-states. It also wants to drive a wedge between the more Moscow-friendly European capitals and the United States. Obama's victory does not appear to have changed Russian policy: on the day US election results were announced the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev gave a speech criticising US 'aggression' and 'unilateralism'.

Obama's immediate priority should be to help to strengthen the EU consensus on Russia, and to bring Europe's and America's policies closer to one another. This requires two things. First, Obama will need to convince Berlin, Paris, Rome and other capitals that Washington will not gratuitously provoke Moscow. So the US should stop pushing for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia. Instead of MAP, which has become a red flag to not only Moscow but also to Berlin and Paris, NATO should use its special Ukraine and Georgia councils to expand security assistance to the two countries, and to give them a clear set of criteria for future membership.

At the same time, Obama needs to re-assure NATO allies on Russian borders that Washington would not abandon them in case of a Russian aggression. To that end, Obama should work with other allies to organise 'table top' military exercises assessing NATO's readiness to defend the Baltic states against a military attack.

Bosnia is on neither Obama's nor Europe's list of priorities but it should be. Years of 'hands-off' Western policy allowed nationalists to once again flourish there. The US and Europe must urgently re-engage. The office of high representative (HR, usually a senior European diplomat) will close soon, under Russian pressure. Instead, EU governments and the US should use the full power of traditional diplomatic tools like the prospect of EU membership, and the implied threat of military intervention, to keep nationalist politicians from tearing the country apart. Above all, Obama and the EU need to pay more attention to Bosnia; the country is vulnerable and could collapse.

There are other areas, where Europe and the US will need to re-think their policies. For example, Turkey's relations with the US and Europe are at their lowest point in decades. The ideas put forth above are therefore not meant to be read as an exhaustive list but rather as a sample.

President Obama will find that dealing with Europe is not easy. Eight years of the George Bush government left Europe distrustful of the US. But Obama is surrounded by an excellent team of advisors, who understand Europe and are well positioned to guide Obama through European sensitivities. Most importantly, candidate Obama has shown tremendous empathy and intellectual curiosity on the campaign trail. And he has a first-rate mind. He seems well aware of the need for course correction in places like Iran. This bodes well for the transatlantic relationship.

Tomas Valasek is director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European Reform.

Comments

Added on 25 Nov 2008 at 21:56 by Mathew Lowry

I recently http://mathew.blogactiv.eu/2008/11/19/obama-a-man-for-all-bloggers-blogtour/" REL="nofollow">
analysed and summarisied several dozen posts by EU bloggers on the implications of Obama’s win. The above post was one of the many which covered foreign policy, although most had a specific regional focus (Central Europe, China ...).

There were diverging opinions between those who thought Obama was a Good Thing because he would bring EU-US relations back to 'normal' (i.e., pre-Bush, pre-neocon) days, and those who thought Obama was a Good Thing because he promised something quite new.

What do you think? Will we see classical Democrat multi-lateralism, or has the ground shifted so much that something else is on the cards? If so, what, and what role for Europe?

New designs for Europe

New designs for Europe

New designs for Europe

Written by Charles Grant, Katinka Barysch, Steven Everts, Heather Grabbe, Peter Hain, Ben Hall, Daniel Keohane, Alasdair Murray , 04 October 2002

Transatlantic rift: How to bring the two sides together

Transatlantic rift

Transatlantic rift: How to bring the two sides together

Written by Charles Grant, 05 September 2003

Europe and Russia's continental rift

Europe and Russia's continental rift

Europe and Russia's continental rift

13 July 2009
From Time Europe

External Author(s)
Katinka Barysch

Le G20 a manqué une chance de réformer la finance

Le G20 a manqué une chance de réformer la finance

Le G20 a manqué une chance de réformer la finance

24 April 2010
From La Tribune

External Author(s)
Katinka Barysch

Turkey's future lies with Europe

Turkey's future lies with Europe

Turkey's future lies with Europe

07 April 2009
From The Guardian

External Author(s)
Katinka Barysch
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