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Europe’s Governance Troubles

Editor’s Note: Below is an interview with Ambassador Norman Eisen that originally appeared in two parts in the EU Bulletin. Below is an introductory note from Amb. Eisen. Both parts of the interview follow. Each title includes a hyperlink to the original piece.

An interviewer recently asked me about European governance challenges. In response, I found myself explaining the interrelationship of several seemingly disparate phenomena: Europe’s economic struggles, Mr. Putin’s adventures in the Ukraine, and the rise of extremism and intolerance across that continent. In mulling the question further, I am struck by some of the echoes of Europe’s history. While the situation is not of course comparable to the 1930’s, it does have some eerie hints of that decade. In looking at these phenomena, I fear what would happen if Europe suffered another economic shock, particularly an even more severe one. The margin of safety insulating us from a situation that is susceptible of direct comparison to that horrible decade is less than it has been at any time in a quarter of a century and perhaps in 50 years. To be clear, in my judgment we are still far away from that, but given Europe’s history over the past century, one must always keep a sharp eye on the leading indicators. The interview, which also touches on the Middle East and Asia, follows.

Part I. (originally appeared in EU Bulletin 4 December 2014)

Truly Tough Sanctions by the United West Needed to Stop Mr. Putin


EUBULLETIN:
 Europe is currently going through a very challenging period. The economy is not yet back on track, unemployment is persistently high, and the length of the conflict in Ukraine has taken all by surprise. Moreover, the EU must deal with migration pressure and increasing mistrust of EU nationals in institutions. From your perspective as former Ambassador to the Czech Republic, what is your personal “ranking” of these problems in terms of importance?

Eisen: I think the problems are interlinked. The economic weakness has contributed to most NATO members falling far below their 2 percent of GDP defense spending target, which has in turn emboldened Mr. Putin. The economic privation also spurs intolerance and the rise of extreme political parties. All of those issues can be prioritized – all must be addressed with urgency, though if I were forced to choose, economics is perhaps at the core.

EUBULLETIN: What is, in your opinion, the role of small EU member states in shaping policies while trying to solve these problems? Traditionally, these issues seem to have been the domain of the biggest EU countries such as Germany, France or the UK.

Eisen: I believe that small countries have a critical role to play, particularly if several small and medium size countries work together around particular issues. Take free trade, for example. The Czech Republic and other small and medium size countries would disproportionately benefit if the EU and the U.S. were able to achieve a free trade agreement. If these countries band together, they can counterbalance sentiments of larger countries to the contrary on certain issues under TTIP. The smaller EU member states can play an important role by helping to bring such a coalition together. The same is true in other areas where a small European country, such as the Czech Republic, has traditionally been a leader, such as human rights or support for Israel.

EUBULLETIN: It seems that the conflict in Ukraine has unexpectedly tightened political relations across the Atlantic. Since the beginning of the conflict, both the U.S. and the EU have intensively cooperated to shape the “anti-Russia” policy. Sanctions are likely the most important part of this policy but they have had ambiguous results so far. What should be, in your opinion, the next steps Washington and Brussels should take to advance the solution to the conflict?

Eisen: You said the magic word, sanctions. We need truly tough sanctions with real unity behind them, as the West has, for example, demonstrated towards Iran. I know that will be painful for some businesses and some nations’ economies, but in the long term the price will be even higher if we do not stop Mr. Putin.

Part II. (originally appeared in EU Bulletin on 24 December 2014)

Ambassador N.L. Eisen: Evaluating the Transatlantic Partnership

The European Union and the United States are the world’s biggest economic and military powers that dominate global trade and play the leading roles in international political relations. As a result, what Brussels or Washington says matters a great deal not only to the other, but to much of the rest of the world. But they have also often disagreed with each other on a wide range of specific issues, as well as had often quite different political, economic, and social agendas.

The EU and U.S. are now major actors in the phenomenon of globalization, and as paper titled ‘Reshaping EU-US Relations’ recently published by Notre Europe, a leading European think-tank, argues, they “often they determine its course, sometimes they are adversely impacted and above all they are being profoundly trans-formed by its effects.”

And although, as this paper aptly points out, “in the ten years since 2000, the foundations of American power (military force, technological excellence, economic success) have been severely shaken, as have the certainties of the European project (continuous prosperity, citizen support, the attraction of the European model)”, both these long-standing allies are still bound by many common strategic interests, namely Russia, economic partnership and the threat of terrorism and Islamic extremism. 

EUBULLETIN has recently talked to Ambassador Norman L. Eisen about his views on challenges currently facing the EU-U.S. relationship.

EUBULLETIN: It seems that the conflict in Ukraine has unexpectedly tightened political relations across the Atlantic. Since the beginning of the conflict, both the U.S. and the EU have intensively cooperated to shape the “anti-Russia” policy. Sanctions are likely the most important part of this policy but they have had ambiguous results so far. What should be, in your opinion, the next steps Washington and Brussels should take to advance the solution to the conflict?

Eisen: You said the magic word, sanctions. We need truly tough sanctions with real unity behind them, as the West has, for example, demonstrated towards Iran. I know that will be painful for some businesses and some nations’ economies, but in the long term the price will be even higher if we do not stop Mr. Putin.

EUBULLETIN: In addition to the political challenges that both the U.S. and EU are dealing with, both parties are still in the midst of the negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). How do you personally see the future prospects of this agreement?

Eisen: In my view, TTIP is critical to the economies of both sides of the Transatlantic relationship. Together, we constitute by far the largest economic partnership in the world. I believe that the incoming Congress will look favorably upon that and I hope the European Parliament will do the same. So I am cautiously optimistic.

EUBULLETIN: Apart from the conflict in Eastern Europe, international security relations are being tested, we could perhaps even say traditionally, in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria has devastated the country, Iraq seems to be falling apart, and some sense the onset of the third intifada. How related, in your opinion, are all of these problems?

Eisen: ISIL is a unifying aspect of the Syrian and Iraqi situations, and one could certainly point to the role of ISIL style-Islamic terror in Gaza (although I agree with the Islamic mainstream that such terror is a perversion of true Islam). That said, the causes of these three problems, and of the many others roiling the region, are distinct.

EUBULLETIN: The United States is going through, what many analysts have described as, the American Shale Revolution. How will this phenomenon influence the position of the United States in international energy markets especially with respect to OPEC or China?

Eisen: The U.S. role is certainly strengthened by our energy breakthroughs of recent years. I think you will see OPEC’s influence continuing to decrease, including because of infighting among its members. China will remain a heavy consumer, and to the extent U.S. activity is driving down prices on global markets, that benefits China while reducing OPEC’s power.

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