A Mid-Term Assessment of Barack Obama. A New Transatlantic Chapter?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definitions and Dimensions

3. Thesis: The US-EU Relation is an Unbalanced Partnership

4. The Assessment
4.1 During Presidential Campaign: European Expectations and Obama’s Promises
4.2 First Year: Leading and Listening
4.3 Second Year: Perception and Perspective
4.4 Conclusion

5. A New Transatlantic Chapter? - Approaches for a More Balanced Transatlantic Partnership
5.1 Is it trade, stupid?
5.2 Enough common sense for enhancing the partnership?
5.3 How can forces be joined on the global agenda?


1. Introduction

The mid-term of a presidency in the United States (US) is a good time for a first assessment. In this paper, the focus is put on the state and outlook for the transatlantic relations between the US and the the EU member states.

In the second chapter, we will set the definitions and the dimensions of the transatlantic relations.

Chapter 3 comprises the thesis of this paper: the US-EU relation is an unbalanced relationship. There is a deeper relation in regard to defense and security than in other policy issues, and the relation is still based on intergovernmental coordination in forums like the NATO than between the US and the EU bodies.

The assessment of the thesis for the first two years of President Obama’s administration will be done in Chapter 4.

Chapter 5 gives an approach for a New Transatlantic Chapter by deepening the economic integration of the transatlantic area.

2. Definitions and Dimensions

The term “transatlantic“ can be defined in very different ways. First of all, on could think of the space between the American and the European continent and would comprise North-, Middle- and South-America as well as Europe. This is the broadest scope that is possible. A bit more narrowing is the understanding of “transatlantic” as the space between North America and Europe. Most of the people then think of the Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (“NATO”), but also this would not cover all countries of North America and Europe. In this paper, we use an even more focused definition when we talk about transatlantic relations as the relations between the United States of America (USA) and the 27 member countries of the European Union (EU) as well as the European Union als international actor itself.

The transatlantic relation between the USA and the EU and its member states is the biggest, closest and richest friendship in the world, and its most important military alliance. America and Europe account for half of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and between 25% (exports) and 30% (imports) of global trade:

Table 1: Leading Economies of the World in 2010. GDP in bn. US$.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: World Trade Organization.

Table 2: Leading Exporters and Imports in World Merchandise Trade 2010 in Bn. US$.[1]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: World Trade Organization.

Each side of the North Atlantic has more than 1 trillion invested in the other.[2] Furthermore, NATO has by far the most powerful military capacities in the world:

Table 3: Development of Military Spendings between 1994-2004/2005, in bn. US-$

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Gasteyger, Kurt (2005): Globale Machtverschiebungen. In: Österreichische Militärische Zeitschrift. Edition 4/2005.

3. Thesis: The US-EU Relation is an Unbalanced Partnership

When they think of Europe, often NATO comes into the mind of Americans. This is true, but not the only thing. During the last 60 years, the European Union was built by a growing number of member states, starting as an purely economic free trade area but now covering a broad range of issues, starting with intergovernmental consultations in regard to the foreign security and defense policy, the domestic security and leading the fully integrated common European market with more than 500 Mio. consumers. When it comes to international trade issues, the European Union is representing the interests of its 27 member states and represents the No. 1 trading power worldwide:

But yet the partnership is still strangely unbalanced. Like a misshapen weightlifter who exercises only one arm, the partnership bulks up its military limb, perhaps even overworks it. Meanwhile the economic and political arm is weedy and neglected. This picture was drawn by a cartoon, published in The Economist in November 2010:

Picture 1: Cartoon published to demonstrate the current state of the US-EU-Partnership

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: The Economist,

URL: http://www.economist.com/node/17574931?story_id=17574931&fsrc=rss, downloaded November 26th 2010

Yet the reality is that, to American leaders, “Europe” means, first, NATO, then national leaders of the 27 member states, and only lastly the EU with its leading representatives like the President of the European Commission or the President of the European Council. Although President Obama may hail ties with Europe as the “cornerstone” of America’s foreign policy, he plainly has little time to spare for the EU. In America’s mind the EU is in essence the economic extension of NATO. Many Europeans dream of inverting this relationship. “NATO should eventually become a military component of a stronger EU-US strategic relationship,” declares a recent pamphlet by the EU’s in-house think-tank, the Institute for Security Studies.[3] A joint paper by eight think-tanks on both sides of the Atlantic last year said that America urgently needed a “strategic relationship” with the EU, “the most important organization in the world to which the United States does not belong”.[4]

Let’s go back to the end of the Cold War during the late 80ies and the early 90ies. You will see that the preconditions of the transatlantic relations have changed fundamentally. Until that time, defending democracy, the free market economy and the liberalization of world trade against the communist thread was the common interest and motivation of Western Europe and the United States. This “imperative” suddenly disappeared with the implosion of the “East Block”.[5] The automatic partners” of the “Transatlantic Civilization”[6] turned somehow into a partnership looking for a new common sense.

In contrast to the sphere of defense and security where the USA as the single global power assuring order is dominating also the transatlantic relations within NATO, in the economic sphere some see “partners on a basis of equality”[7]: “In contrast to relationships with Asia, transatlantic economic interaction remains remarkably balanced and interdependent.”[8]

At the same time, the continuous enlargement and deeper integration has turned the EU to a second economic power next to the USA, which also induced growing feelings of rivalry among US-Leaders in politics and economy. This was supplemented by a self-confident and independent foreign trade policy of the EU, certain intensive trade disputes between the EU and USA as well as the establishment of the EURO as the second leading currency worldwide. These facts demonstrate that the transatlantic relation is not only a peaceful partnership but also consists of competition for power and race for markets in the globalized economy.[9] Some authors characterize the changing relationship since the end of the Cold War as “oscillating between partnership and competition”[10], some even ask if there is a substantial “cultural break” [11] or “transatlantic drift”[12] between the Europeans and the Americans.

At the same time, the US-Government puts growing efforts in their foreign policy towards Asia, mainly due to China rising as a potential rival in world politics. One could speak about the “pacific century” of the USA - in contrast to the “European century” of the past – being reflected in the fact that President Obama’s first trip abroad in 2009 went not to Europe as tradition would suggest but to Asia. Nevertheless, one should bear in mind that the pacific perspective is not new to the US, but exists since the 19th century as a second dimension of US foreign policy.

4. The Assessment

The two main questions deriving from the thesis “The US-EU relation is an unbalanced partnership“ are:

Is there still a close partnership between Europe and the USA?

Is there more effort put on the defense and security aspects through NATO than to other aspects like US-EU-relations, that indicates an “unbalanced” relationship?


[1] The difference between the total amounts of imports and exports is due to statistical effects in the survey.

[2] See: http://www.economist.com/node/17574931?story_id=17574931&fsrc=rss, downloaded: November 26th 2011

[3] See: http://www.economist.com/node/17574931?story_id=17574931&fsrc=rss, downloaded: November 26th 2011

[4] See: http://www.economist.com/node/17574931?story_id=17574931&fsrc=rss, downloaded: November 26th 2011

[5] See: Meier-Walser 2000, p. 22

[6] See: Mayer 2009, p. 301

[7] See: Bretherton/Vogler 2006, p. 82

[8] Bretherton/Vogler 2006, p. 83

[9] See: Müller-Brandeck-Bocquet 2000, p. 111.

[10] See: Meier.Walser 2000, p. 21ff.

[11] See: Weidenfeld 1996

[12] See: Lundestadt 2003, p. 269ff

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A Mid-Term Assessment of Barack Obama. A New Transatlantic Chapter?
Munich University of Policy
Barack Obama and the Politics of Promise and Protest: A Mid-Term Assessment
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Barack Obama, transatlantic relations, transatlantic chapter, EU, USA, transatlantische Beziehungen
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Alois Maichel (Author), 2011, A Mid-Term Assessment of Barack Obama. A New Transatlantic Chapter?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/284409


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