Presiding Over Challenges

Posted in Europe | 08-Dec-06 | Author: Jackson Janes

Dr. Jackson Janes

Dual Presidencies: the EU and the G8
German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier's visit to Washington this week is primarily designed to discuss the agenda of the two jobs Germany will be given as of the first of January: the rotating six-month Presidency of the European Union and the Presidency of the G8 summit. While Washington is currently preoccupied with presentation of the Iraq Study Group report, there is a large American stake in the ability of Germany to steer the coming year's agenda in a direction that can have significant implications for U.S. policies in that troubled region. The challenge, as always in these top-heavy summit agendas, will be to arrive at a workable consensus rather than another round of rhetoric without implementation options. In the series of both EU presidencies and G8 summits, there are plenty of precedents for the latter scenario.

A harbinger of what lies in store for Germany's presidencies was already visible in the recent NATO summit in Riga. The discussions centering on the need to address the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan brought up the traditional alliance debate over burden sharing, as well as the question of defining its mission in the twenty-first century. The clash between some NATO member states over responsibilities in the heavily embattled south of Afghanistan is one that threatens the unity of the alliance and underscores the need to define what is the common stake there and the long-term mandate of NATO. While Germany has 3,000 troops in Afghanistan, the German government maintains that they are to remain deployed in the northern area, despite U.S. requests to send additional support troops south to face resurgent Taliban forces. The perception of a "two-class Alliance" and the fact that many members of NATO have put caveats or limitations on their troops threatens the Alliance's solidarity. That problem remains unsolved. Although NATO has a Rapid Reaction Force capability, the question is when and where will it be used and how that decision-making process will work. NATO may have some tools, but does it have a consensus on using them?

High Priority: Energy Security
Despite the fact that the slogan of the German Presidency of the European Union is "Europe will succeed if we work together," forging a consensus on a number of issues is going to be difficult. One of the central planks in the EU and the G8 presidencies is energy security. Germany speaks of an energy foreign policy, stressing the role energy security now plays in defining national interests. The goals of such a foreign policy involve securing supply lines, transit, and stockpiles; it should also involve securing diversification of resources. Here a second goal of the German EU and G8 presidencies involves helping to stabilize the Central Asian nations, who also represent sources of such resources, be they gas or oil. This issue is certainly a common denominator with Washington.

Yet the growing and intimidating power of Russia in this field is becoming a dominating factor in Europe, which gets 40 percent of its natural gas imports from Russia, a level that is expected to double in twenty years. Germany currently imports over a third of its gas from Russia. The challenge will be to decide how to cope with that kind of leverage sought by the Russians in Europe. A test may be forthcoming if Russia decides to turn off its supplies to another country with which it has disputes, like Georgia, just as it did to Ukraine last January. What recourse does Germany or the EU then have? And will it be willing to implement this alternative? Russia will be sitting at the table at the G8 summit in Heiligendam next July. What will be the message to Moscow about the need for energy security? And will it be one voice speaking?

In addition to energy concerns, another area of common concern is the future of the transatlantic and global trade regime. In light of the impending demise of the Doha Round, what will be the fallback position for maintaining momentum in eliminating the barriers still framing the imbalances of trade between the rich and poor of the world? Chancellor Merkel has floated the idea of a transatlantic free trade area (TAFTA), causing some to criticize her for pursuing a less than optimal plan for opening up the world markets for the sake of protecting the rich transatlantic routes. In Washington, there is concern that the election results last month strengthened the forces of protectionism. Further progress in the trade round is also under the gun as the Congress looks at the question of extending the President's fast-track trade negotiation authority which will expire on June 30, 2007. Given its position as the world's leading export nation, Germany should be leading the effort to gain a consensus on this crucial area.

Will Events Dictate the Response?
There are any number of other issues on the agenda of the German Presidencies, including climate change, Africa, combating terrorism, and the thorny issue of how to restart the sluggish engines of Europe's constitutional process. Yet a reality check for Berlin is the experiences gained from 1999 when it last wore the two hats of the EU presidency and head of the G8 summit. That year saw a freshly minted SPD-Green government facing a set of challenges no one had foreseen. For the first time in its history, NATO went to war, marking the Western Alliance's first offensive military campaign against a sovereign state to put an end to Serbia's ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovar Albanians. Germany was an integral part of that campaign, despite the fact that there was no United Nations mandate. That experience reshaped both German foreign policy thinking and that of the emerging European Security and Defense Policy initiative with a sense of immediacy and reality. The result is that today, German troops along with other NATO members are engaged in places unthinkable just a few years ago.

Seven years later, the lessons learned from those experiences are that the best laid plans of mice and men are not always a match for events that impede on agendas. The fires raging in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the genocide in Darfur, etc., cannot be off the table as the European Union members sort out their challenges and the G8 leaders meet on an island in the Baltic next July. Almost all of the issues to be discussed are connected to these larger strategic threats.

Germany's opportunity with these two responsibilities is not just to manage the process of these gatherings but to help mobilize the resources of all the participants to share the burdens. This essay was written on December 7, 65 years after an unexpected event in the Pacific changed the United States and the world overnight and set a new agenda for the future; the question is whether the unexpected in 2007 will generate a response before Germany and her partners take the initiative themselves.

This essay appeared in the December 7, 2006, AICGS Advisor.