Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

Opinion

Kerry's first trip gives clues on EU-US relations

So, US secretary of state John Kerry's first trip in his new job will be next week - to Europe and the Middle East.

One of the key issues on his agenda, even for the European leg of his tour, will be Syria. 

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • No Brussels. But Europe features heavily on Kerry's symbolic first trip (Photo: state.gov)

Though the Middle East Peace Process will be the weather vane topic in terms of how Obama II engages in the region, Kerry will not be going to Israel and the Palestinian territories because the Israeli government is still putting itself back together after elections.

Foreign policy geeks are all trying to work out what his itinerary signals for what to expect from Washington on the international front.

Comparisons aplenty are being made with Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton's equivalent inaugural trip, which took in China, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea.

Does Kerry’s choice of destinations mean that last year’s US pivot to Asia is over?

Had the US hoped to hand responsibility for ensuring stability in the Middle East and north Africa (Mena) to Europe, but was then disappointed that it did not step up to the plate?

Does Kerry’s trip mean that Europe is back in favour and the transatlantic partnership is safe and sound?

When US leader Barack Obama first announced, in autumn 2011, that he was to intensify the US' role in the Asia-Pacific region, it prompted much hand-wringing in Europe.

But it is unclear whether EU-US relations suffered as a result.

The European Council on Foreign Relations' (ECFR) latest "scorecard," which tracks the effectiveness of European foreign policy year on year, found that in 2012 EU-US ties were resilient.

We cited as evidence the success of the G8 summit at Camp David and the Nato summit in Chicago in May 2012, compared with the G20 summit in Los Cabos a month later, which delivered little and drew precious little attention.

Whatever the intention may have been with regard to continuing or reducing US resources in MENA, throughout 2012, American attention kept being drawn to the region.

From supporting Arab transitions, most notably in Egypt, to the ongoing conflict in Syria, to the Iranian nuclear programme and Israel's Operation Pillar of Defence in Gaza in autumn, the US remained watchful.

In the majority of these dossiers co-ordination with the EU has remained close, on the E3+3 process on Iran, through the Friends of Syria Group and at the UN.

As a result, the European External Action Service (EEAS) delegation in Washington is one of a select few EEAS missions which has begun to play a serious negotiation and co-ordination role in advancing EU policy.

And yet … the EU capital, Brussels, is notable by its absence in Kerry's agenda next week.

Critics might argue that what at first glance looked like EU-US co-ordination was, on closer inspection, the EU simply following a US lead on crunch issues.

Either way, had the US seriously withdrawn its attentions from the EU’s southern neighbourhood in 2012, Europe would have struggled.

The EU continues to focus on the technical aspects of its co-operation with the MENA region, without bringing to bear its significant potential influence in other ways, through political, diplomatic and security engagement.

Europeans have failed to find a way round Chinese and Russian intransigence on the conflict in Syria, at the UN or outside of this forum.

Insufficient resources have been put into supporting state-building in Libya after the intervention in 2011.

Efforts on security-to-security engagement have been largely absent, with only isolated, small scale bilateral programmes from certain EU countries on security sector reform.

Meanwhile, just south of MENA, and with significant implications for it, when the Mali conflict escalated in January, France was forced to rely on US intelligence, reconnaissance and technical support to stop jihadists from overrunning Bamako.

Whichever way you read them, Kerry’s travel plans mean that Europe needs to up its game in MENA, which has huge strategic significance for EU countries.

Continuing to just get by in its near-neighbourhood, with or without full-blooded US support, is not the way to plan for the coming year.

There is perhaps a subtle reminder in the runes of Kerry's travel choices - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – that the EU's immediate neighbours on the Mediterranean Sea fringe are for Europe to deal with.

Given the uncertain future of Tunisia, the lack of security in Libya, dim prospects for reform in Morocco and complex relations with Algeria, it is probably more than enough.

Susi Dennison is a fellow at the London-based think tank, the ECFR

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

2015 target date for EU-US trade deal

EU and US negotiators want to have a transatlantic trade and investment deal in place by 2015, but French politicians are wary of the pact.

Obama presses EU leaders on growth

A weekend summit of G8 leaders stressed the need for the eurozone to focus on keeping Greece inside the euro. But plans are reportedly being drafted to deal with its potential exit.

All eyes on EU court for decision on religious slaughter

The European Court of Justice is currently facing a major question: can religious freedom coexist with animal welfare? The decision of whether religious slaughter can continue is expected in a matter of weeks.

Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure

MEPs will vote this week on a supposedly historical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for over one-third of the EU's annual budget. But as it stands, it is set to become a historical failure of catastrophic proportions.

News in Brief

  1. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  2. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19
  3. MEPs restrict CAP funding for bullfighting
  4. Coronavirus: Liège is 'the Lombardy of the second wave'
  5. UK to keep out EU nationals with criminal past
  6. Report: EU to restrict travel from Canada, Tunisia, Georgia
  7. Pope Francis supports same-sex civil unions
  8. EU Commission to increase use of open-source software

Europe has forgotten the 'farm' in 'Farm to Fork'

US secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue argues that the EU is taking an approach "more based on 'political science' than demonstrated agricultural science" in its new Farm to Fork strategy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  2. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  3. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups
  4. France vows tough retaliation for teacher's murder
  5. All eyes on EU court for decision on religious slaughter
  6. 'Big majority' of citizens want EU funds linked to rule of law
  7. EU declares war on Malta and Cyprus passport sales
  8. EU Commission's Libya stance undercut by internal report

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us