US – EU relations and global challenges

Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’
The Netherlands has high and numerous expectations of new President Obama, but the most important one is that he will restore the transatlantic relationship.[1] Foreign Minister Verhagen has pointed out on several occasions that close cooperation between Europe and the US is needed in order to combat global challenges.[2] The government has indicated that it looks forward to cooperation on a broad range of issues. There are however four particular policy priorities that are mentioned most often: the financial crisis, climate change, the conflict in the Middle East, and international terrorism. These issues are also frequently referred to in the Dutch media.
Early initiatives by Obama with regard to these priorities have already been received positively by the Netherlands. It welcomed for instance, his decision to close Guantánamo Bay, as well as the appointment of top diplomats George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke as Special Representatives to the Middle East, and Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively.
Foreign Minister Verhagen has made the observation that the traditional position of the US as a dominant power has changed, and that Europe and the US are increasingly positioned in the same playing field. This has consequences for the way in which the US and Europe should interact. For the US, this means that it will have to take into account European ideas and interests. At the same time, it implies that one can expect more of a more equal Europe, both in the political and the military area.[3]
The government deems it of vital importance that the EU behaves itself as an active and constructive player in the international arena. This is essential in order to ensure involvement of the US administration with global challenges, considering that American attention for the world necessarily will have to be shared with its domestic problems, the reasoning goes.[4] Furthermore, Europe needs to take its own responsibility in the world to ensure that the transatlantic relationship is advantageous for both partners. What is needed to this end, is a Europe speaking with one voice, and an investment in both soft and hard power.[5]
In line with this position, the government has indicated that when the Dutch mission in the Afghan province of Uruzgan ends in 2010, it wants to leave the door open for a contribution elsewhere in the country. It hereby responds to the expectation that the US government will ask the Netherlands to stay. Both the Parliament and the public, however, are very sceptical about this.[6]

[1] De Volkskrant: Obama moet kloof EU dichten (Obama needs to bridge gap with Europe), 21 January 2009.

[2] See e.g.: Press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 05 November 2008, available at: (last access: 26 February 2009).

[3] Raad Algemene Zaken en Externe Betrekkingen, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2008-2009, 21 501-02, nr. 859.

[4] Press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 3 November 2008,available at:
(last access: 26 February 2009).

[5] Opening Academisch Jaar, Universiteit Leiden, 1 September 2008 door Minister Verhagen, minister van Buitenlandse Zaken, 1 September 2008.

[6] Het Parool: Kamer: geen Afghaanse missie meer (Parliament: not another Afghan mission), 12 January 2009.