It has not been widely noticed but the Czech Republic takes over the EU presidency in January just at the time that Barack Obama is inaugurated in Washington. Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Republic president, is both a Euro and a climate change sceptic. So we can look forward to an intriguing role reversal, at least on the environment, as the man representing the supposedly progressive Europeans meets the leader of the supposedly reactionary Americans. Barack Obama has already pledged to invest $15bn a year in renewable energy, create 5m “green jobs” in the US and set a firm target for reducing emissions. Will the EU be able to keep up?
Yet the environment might be the exception. Now that liberal Europeans have got what they wanted with Obama’s election, some are starting to wonder if much is really going to change. One view is that, although George W Bush’s first term marked the high point of the neocons, Bush’s second term was rather different. In recent years European co-operation with Washington has improved and therefore the room for positive change is less than you might think. And, from what is known of Obama’s politics, there may be both opportunities and problems. On trade policy, Obama may be less committed to reaching a global deal than the outgoing administration. He is pretty certain to put countries such as Germany on the spot by asking for more troops for Afghanistan—or at least an end to the caveats that prevent troops operating on more dangerous missions.
The sensible conclusion is that he will make a difference but his agenda will be more closely aligned to US interests than Europeans hope. The European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, was said to favour Obama because he saw more opportunities for co-operation. But the two men have never actually met.
Obama will be making two trips to Europe in the first half of 2009. But we shouldn’t feel too flattered—he has two appointments that no president could miss. The first is Nato’s 60th anniversary summit in April, followed by the G8 summit in Italy in July. Which other European capitals will he visit?
This is an extract taken for Prospect’s monthly Brussels Diary, by Manneken Pis, available in full to subscribers of the magazine.