Thursday, January 29, 2009

A New Era of Transatlantic Relations?

Barack Obama speaking in Berlin, Germany (7/24/08)

President Obama’s inauguration on January 20 has been well received in many European countries – including Germany. During the eight years of the Bush Administration, the image of the U.S. among the European public has suffered. A survey on transatlantic trends conducted by the German Marshall Fund shows that the number of Europeans viewing the U.S. as a desirable global leader dropped from 64 percent in 2002 to 36 percent in 2008.

The wide-spread popularity of President Obama in European countries literally raises hope of an improved transatlantic cooperation. John K. Glenn, director of foreign policy at the German Marshall Fund, sees potential in President Obama. However, he points out that electing Obama as the 44th President of the U.S. does not immediately reverse the U.S. image and improve the transatlantic relations.

In his POLITICO article “Obama to Europe: Ich bin ein listener,” Glenn underscores the need of Obama to listen to European allies and reshape the public opinion of Americans as a country not seeing Europeans as essential partners.

According to Glenn, one of the main reasons for the negative public opinion among Europeans was caused by a lack of cooperation with European countries in terms of dealing with terrorism. It is therefore not surprising that Angela Merkel attached the claim for better cooperation and communication between Europeans and Americans to her congratulating message for President Obama, stating that “no single country can solve the problems of the world.

From my perspective as a European native, Obama’s election can be seen as the first step to improve transatlantic relations. Yet, there have to be more to follow. Appointing the two renowned foreign policy experts George Mitchell and Richard Holbrook to special envoys has definitely been another step in the right direction, underscoring Obama’s intention to find a new strategy when dealing with the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As John K. Glenn states: “Obama’s great promise is that he has the potential to make collaboration with the United States not just politically possible but politically desirable.”


  1. In response to Nina's post, I found an article from the International Herald Tribune about comparing Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy.

    I studied abroad in Berlin last Spring semester during the primary season, and there was a strong support for Obama. There were polling places set up through Democrats Abroad so along with the other students in my program, I voted. I was worried that I would miss out on the hype of the political climate back home in the US but the Germans were just as excited about our election. Whenever I met someone new they always asked me if I liked Hilary or Obama, there was never any other choice for them. As Berliners, they have been tied to American politics since the end of WWII. American occupation has left a huge impact on the city--street names are named after US generals and the school that I attended, the Freie Universitaet, has buildings named after both President Ford and Kennedy.
    The comparison to President Kennedy is a little early because our President has just taken office, but the article mentions that Obama represents change in American policies. A reporter from the Tagesspiegal said "Despite the fact that Obama is not associated with Europe in general or Germany in particular, he has a cultural record that the rest of the field does not have, a better international and intercultural record." He also named Obama the Black Kennedy.
    Even though the comparison to Kennedy is a great one, it gives hope that our new administration will strive for more cooperation with Europe, and at least the German people are ready to strive for change.

  2. I'll tag along on this post, if I may, since I also experienced Germany during the primaries. I was even lucky enough to receive a pin that was given to a German friend of mine at Oktoberfest that proclaimed "OBAMAFEST". The love for Obama is pretty strong throughout Europe and can be seen as a great type of public diplomacy. However, much of the media is, thankfully, also, realistic about our new president. This article ( discusses not only the positive aspects of Barack Obama's election (Der Spiegel called it "How the US got it's groove back") but it also addresses the problems that this administration will face.
    Now, to follow along with Nina's original post, it's not only Germans that believe that America shouldn't play such a large role in the world. I've seen polls, none of which I can seem to find at the time, that show that Americans also don't want to play such a huge part in the goings on of the rest of the world. This may, however, represent those Americans who are all for going back to America that loves isolationism.