Beginning of a new era in international relations

Italy
Istituto Affari Internazionali
 
At present, both the Italian public opinion and the political elite seem to be thinking that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States will lead to a change in the EU-US relationship. In any case, many commentators share the opinion that, in order to have a real turning point in transatlantic relations it will be necessary for both the US and the EU to address some priorities which, once dealt with, will open the way to a revitalised partnership. This will not be an easy task, since, as an Italian journalist noted, “the new US President will deal with a Europe which is different from that of eight years ago, when George W. Bush was elected: it is a Europe that is closer to the US as a political and institutional subject, but that has moved farther away at the level of public opinion”[1].
 
First of all, the first important issue in such a process will be the ability of the European Union to act as an effective global player. As Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini stated, “the new US President Barack Obama’s multilateral approach will lead Europe to take its own responsibilities in fields such as the fight against terrorism and in global defence policy”[2]. In the opinion of some journalists, this demand from the new US Presidency may lead to a cleavage among EU member states: some of them will support a more active Europe in the crisis management field, while others will not.[3] Generally, the Italian position on this matter is that there is the possibility of a change in EU-US relations, but to make it happen, Europe has to be more cohesive and to speak with one voice. In particular, the European Union will be asked to devolve more resources to the mission in Afghanistan and to be prepared to intervene in situations that may be dangerous for international stability. In this sense, an important step was already taken in January with the EU diplomatic mission in the Middle East, which has been praised by the new American President.[4] However, the Europeans will have to do more than show their will to be considered an effective strategic partner by the new United States’ administration. As an Italian analyst noted: “Europe’s room for manoeuvre on the world stage is more likely to expand through strong partnership with the United States than by drifting apart from Washington”[5].
 
The second issue, that in the opinion of the Italians will determine the future of the EU-US relationship, is the building of a new global governance, which the financial crisis of the last months has made even more essential. As an Italian journalist wrote in an article in “Corriere della Sera”, “strong transatlantic cooperation is more necessary than ever, since the financial crisis has opened our eyes to the urgency of providing the globalised markets with solid public governance”[6]. In order to build a new global governance of economic processes, both the United States and the European Union are considered fundamental. On the one hand, only the US can stimulate a new policy, based on multilateralism and cooperation with partners. On the other hand, Europe has two important contributions to offer in this process: first, “the knowhow which enabled the EU institutions to successfully govern the ‘globalisation’ at the continental scale for fifty years”[7]; secondly, “a credibility that in the eyes of the other actors involved, such as China, is probably higher right now than that of the United States”[8].
 
Reform of the international institutions goes in the same direction. Of them, Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, considers of the highest importance the reorganisation of the G8 structure, which will be considered under the new Italian Presidency in 2009.[9] The reform of other international institutions, such as the United Nations and the WTO, is also seen as one of the main points in the new EU-US agenda.[10] Briefly, from the Italian point of view, it is important for the United States and the European Union to work together in order to “re-establish the rules of economic governance”[11].
 
The relationship with Russia is the other important theme that will influence the future relationship between the EU and the US. A recent survey showed that both Americans and Europeans consider Russia a risky element in international relations, not only because of the energy issue, but also because of its behaviour towards neighbourhood countries.[12] In an article published in “Affari Internazionali”, the Italian diplomat, Maurizio Massari, wrote that for Europe, it is of the highest importance to have a renewed relation between Moscow and Washington since “Russia has become one of the main factors of division inside the European Union and of misunderstanding in the transatlantic framework”[13]. From his point of view, the European Union could play an important role in softening tensions between Russia and the Western countries by promoting the ‘cooperative’ management of the ‘former Soviet neighbourhood’, which is one of the most important sources of disagreement today.[14] This issue is particularly important in Italy since Prime Minister Berlusconi has always been a promoter of good relations with Russia. Given this ‘special relationship’, in the opinion of some commentators, Italy could play an important role in facilitating Russia-US communication. Gianni De Michelis, MEP for the Partito Socialista and former Italian Foreign Minister, affirmed that, for the new US President, “Italy will be very useful for the dialogue with Putin”[15]. This opinion is shared by the Italian Prime Minister, who, in an interview given a few days after Obama’s election, said: “I suggest that Obama should not go on with the escalation of negative relations with Russia”[16].
 
To conclude, it may be noted that both the Italian public opinion and politicians consider the election of Obama as President of the United States as the first step of an important change in international relations. This idea is generally shared by the whole political elite. Walter Veltroni, leader of the opposition party PD, affirmed that “this is the beginning of a new era that will change history”[17]. The Italian Foreign Minister declared that there will be a re-launch of the partnership between the US and Europe and that Italy will play an important role in it.[18] Piero Fassino, the Italian shadow minister for foreign affairs, affirmed that with Obama’s election “there will be a definite change in relations between the United States and the European Union”[19]. However, to make it happen, it is common opinion that Europe will have to show that it is ready to act beside the new US-presidency and that it is strong enough to take on its own responsibilities. Therefore, whether Obama will bring a change in the US-EU relationship or not does not only depend on him alone, but depends mostly on the way the Europeans will be ready to interact with the new American administration.
 




[1] M. Monti: L’Europa adulta e l’America, Corriere della Sera, 2 November 2008, available at: http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2008/novembre/02/EUROPA_ADULTA_AMERIC... (last access: 25 January 2009).


[2] See: USA-UE: Frattini, Obama chiederà più soldati, serve politica difesa comune, Libero, 10 January 2009, available at: http://www.libero-news.it/adnkronos/view/32276 (last access: 25 January 2009).


[3] L. Caracciolo: E l’Europa si spaccherà, L’Espresso, 13 November 2008, available at: http://espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/E-lEuropa-si-spacchera/2048229/18 (last access: 25 January 2009).


[4] See: Gaza/Da Obama apprezzamento a premier ceco per missione Ue, 8 January 2009, available at: http://www.notizia.it/notizie/esteri/2009/01_gennaio/08/gaza_da_obama_ap... (last access: 25 January 2009).


[5] R. Alcaro: Where to (Re)start? Proposals for Re-launching the Transatlantic Partnership in View of the US Presidential Elections, in: R. Alcaro (ed.): Re-Launching the Transatlantic Security Partnership, Quaderni IAI English series, 12/2008, pp. 101-116, p.114.


[6] M. Monti: L’Europa adulta e l’America, Corriere della Sera, 2 November 2008, available at: http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2008/novembre/02/EUROPA_ADULTA_AMERIC... (last access: 25 January 2009).


[7] Ibid.


[8] Ibid.


[9] M. Rigacci: McCain o Obama? UE, chiave è multilateralismo, 3 November 2008, available at: http://www.ansa.it/opencms/export/site/notizie/rubriche/approfondimenti/... (last access: 25 January 2009).


[10] Ibid.


[11] USA-UE: Frattini, Obama chiederà più soldati, serve politica difesa comune, Libero, 10 January 2009, available at: http://www.libero-news.it/adnkronos/view/32276 (last access: 25 January 2009).


[12] Filippo Vecchio: Europei Ottimisti Sulle Relazioni Transatlantiche Se Vince Obama, Meno Con McCain Presidente, Transatlantic trends, September 2008, available at: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/Documenti/Comunicato-stampa_TT08_ita.pdf (last access: 25 January 2009).


[13] M. Massari: Obama di fronte alla sfida russa, Affari internazionali, 5t November 2008, available at: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=980 (last access: 25 January 2009).


[14] Ibid.


[15] Interview to Gianni De Michelis, Il Riformista, 5 November 2008, available at: http://www.magna-carta.it/files/Rassegna stampa Elezioni Usa 5 novembre.pdf (last access: 25 January 2009).


[16] See: Berlusconi a Obama: priorità legame con Russia, Il Giornale, 11 November 2008, available at:
http://www.ilgiornale.it/a.pic1?ID=305349 (last access: 25 January 2009).


[17] See: http://www.adnkronos.com/IGN/Politica/?id=3.0.2930261222 (last access: 25 January 2009).


[18] See: Applaudono tutti. Napolitano: giorno di grande speranza, La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, 6 November 2008.


[19] See: Usa 2008: Fassino, con Obama miglioreranno rapporti con Ue, 5 November 2008, available at: http://www.repubblica.it/ultimora/politica/USA-2008FASSINO-CON-OBAMA-MIG... (last access: 25 January 2009).