Obama in Brussels

This week, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, will complete a tight schedule that will take him to several European capitals and Saudi Arabia. Of all of the stops, the most newsworthy (and what should be the most important) is the one he will have in Brussels, headquarters to the European Union’s most important institutions. The meetings he will have with community leaders are a novelty, because oddly, it is the first time that the American president is attending a summit in the capital of the EU (he withdrew his attendance to another summit in 2010).

Each of the other stops on his tour has meaning and importance. For example, the program includes a respectful visit to an American cemetery in Belgium, a reminder of the help the United States gave in the war from 1914 to 1918, which should have ended all wars. He will also attend a conclave in The Hague about the use and control of nuclear energy, where he will meet with the highest Chinese authority. He will visit Paris and Berlin, the ultimate symbolism that an axis of European integration formed by France and Germany still exists. As recognition of the ever-powerful American Catholic parish and paying needed attention to the innovative performance of Pope Francis, Obama will visit the Vatican, in addition to meeting the new Italian prime minister while in Rome. The shadow of Putin’s Russia, however, will be on the horizon, in full backlash from the intervention in Crimea. Last, remembering that the Arab world is still relevant in Washington’s current agenda, Obama will assure his Saudi Arabian allies that American support continues as solid as that given to Israel.

However, the most meaningful chapter of this packed trip is set precisely in the scene of the Belgian capital (where there will be a stop at the NATO headquarters), the direct approach to the heart of the European Union. Obama’s ambivalent attitude toward the reality of European integration is representative of an important sector of the established American order, its intelligence and security community, and its analysis framework. Notice that U.S. leaders rarely refer to the “European Union,” preferring the vague allusion to Europe. It would appear that this is respectful toward the perception of certain European sectors (the notorious case being that of the United Kingdom), where the European Union is only one of the options for foreign policy. Europe is a geographic, historical and cultural reality for the United States, while the EU is an experiment in which they still look for the telephone that Kissinger supposedly demanded.

The interest that different branches of community power pay to TTIP (the English acronym for the free trade and investment agreement between the EU and the United States) is attention grabbing, present in the agenda of topics and situated at a different level than that of strategy for Ukraine’s crisis. Although it has been cooking for several years and one can date it back to the beginning of the relationship between the two entities, it was explicitly placed in the center of attention in the middle of 2013. It is expected that negotiations will be very advanced at the end of this year, but it is feared that they will extend until 2017.

At that point, one may question other reasons for the current rush. There is no doubt that in times of crisis still present in both the U.S. and Europe, the facts that are being considered with respect to the creation of a respectable number of job placements on both shores of the Atlantic are a significant reason. Certain geopolitically focused analyses indicate that the new Atlantic alliance in progress is a protection ploy among the threat of emerging economies, formed by BRICS and other new powers.

In any case, some obstacles with complicated solutions intrude on this calendar and these intentions, at least keeping in mind the attitude and realities in the United States. Curiously, the Republican Party does not appear to create an obstacle itself, as the general interests that it represents are inclined to free trade and free flow of investments. Labor sectors that are traditionally the Democrats’ backbone also do not represent problems, given that numerous workers’ interests may welcome the protective aspects of European legislation.

First, the main obstacle is that the American mind is conditioned to lean toward Asia. The competition comes from the Pacific agreement/alliance, which still holds weight, especially in issues of security. Second, while the EU counts on a permanent representative (the Commission) for trade negotiations, the United States’ “telephone” does not exist. The eager “fast track authority” attributed to the government has never been lent to the government. The U.S. suffers from a dispersion of power. The states (and their subregions and metropolitan zones), political parties, and the nation’s different modalities according to the topic and the business and labor lobbyists share power. The third obstacle will come from the decision of the American government to not only decrease the authorization of free trade to the European project, but also to unite it with a similar agreement with other areas around the world, which will complicate negotiations. Everything, as one can see, has only just begun. Just when there will be a new leader in Europe after this summer, as a result of elections and the naming of the positions of highest power. This can also be said of the midterm elections in the U.S. Congress.

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