Renewing trans-Atlantic ties Finnish-style

January 29, 2010

It’s not often that Finland takes the lead in calling for better trans-Atlantic ties, but as the Nordic country’s energetic foreign minister might say: there’s a first time for everything.

In a speech in London this week, delivered on the eve of the Afghan conference, which might perhaps have led it to garner less attention than it otherwise would, Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb laid out a bold five-point plan for closer EU-US relations.

As a committed Atlanticist and a pan-European — Stubb spent five years in the United States on a golf scholarship, has studied in Paris, London and Bruges and is married to a Brit — his proposals at least come with the underpinnings of experience.

Alexander Stubb (seated) with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos

Alexander Stubb (seated) with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos

And as one of Europe’s youngest foreign ministers — Stubb is 41 — he also tends to reflect the views of Europe’s thrusting new guard against the Traditional Way of Doing Things.

In short, Stubb argues that common history and experience are not enough to keep the United States and Europe tightly allied in a world where geo-political interests are  shifting rapidly. If the European Union wants to avoid being left out in the cold after the emergence of a G2 — the United States and China —  it needs to strike a new partnership with Washington and start acting like the global player it can be.

The EU last month signed into law the Lisbon Treaty, a document that is supposed to streamline how decisions are made in the 27-nation bloc and give it more clout in international affairs — the diplomatic muscle and influence to match its trade and financial strength.

Lisbon has been in force for barely two months, but so far there’s been little sign of the EU bestriding the world like a new diplomatic colossus.

Stubb’s suggestion essentially amounts to a renewal of vows — like an old married couple redeclaring their love. He wants to see a “solidarity pledge” between the EU and the United States, the creation of a free-trade area between the two, and the formation of a “marriage council”, a forum for discussion on how relations can be made ever better.

There’s a certain touchy-feely-ness to Stubb’s proposal, but at a time when the very phrase “trans-Atlantic alliance” can sound hackneyed and even empty, perhaps he’s got a point.

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