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EU’s Ashton seeks stronger ties with U.S.

January 25, 2010
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton

Catherine Ashton has signalled her intention of giving the European Union’s relationship with the United States more prominence in her new role as the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs.

How productive that relationship proves to be depends largely on how much Washington believes it needs the EU and how much it deals with the European Union as a whole, rather than with its member states one-to-one.

Ashton made her intentions clear by going to Washington for talks last week on one of her first trips since starting her new job on Dec. 1 last year.

“I am grateful to have such a strong, thoughtful, accomplished partner in the efforts that confront us. But I am
very confident that with the EU and the U.S. growing even more closely together, we are up to those challenges,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters after talks with Ashton that marked an encouraging start for the Briton.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear he wants the transatlantic partnershp revitalised and William E. Kennard, the new U.S. ambassador to the EU, has called for ties to be strengthened in several speeches in Brussels this month.

“This is a unique moment,” Kennard said last week at the launch of “The Obama Moment”, a book containing articles looking
at the prospects for EU-U.S. relations. Areas where policy coincide include preventing Iran developing nuclear arms, the global economic crisis, climate change, concern over Russia, the rise of China, global security and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As some of the book’s contributors point out, it is uncertain whether the two sides will fully seize the chance to revitalise ties that have been marred by spats over trade protection.

Much will depend on whether Washington considers its contacts with the EU as a whole more important than its dealings with individual member states — concentrating more on bilateral relations could be divisive.

It will also be important for Ashton that the 27 EU member states unite over foreign policy and then act quickly, and she will be hoping to build as good a relationship with Clinton as she enjoyed with U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk in her previous role as EU trade chief.

“This is an opportunity that neither the US nor the EU can afford to squander,” writes one of the book’s authors, Marcin Zaborowski.

But two other contributors, Daniel Hamilton and Nikolas Foster, point out: “It is still an open question, however, whether the ‘Obama bounce’ will translate into more effective transatlantic cooperation.”

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