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Europe's Lame Duck Leadership Problem

By Andrew Zvirzdin

In 2008, the United States suffered from lame duck leadership. Throughout 2009, the European Union will have the same problem.

As the financial and economic crisis gained steam in the fall of last year, government and business leaders bemoaned the lack of decisive leadership from an American Presidency crippled by fading popularity and the anticipated end of its term. The EU seemed to fill the global leadership vacuum left by President Bush, especially under the leadership of the French Presidency of the Council. The French Prime Minister was influential in resolving the Georgian-Russian conflict, brokering European agreement on bank bailouts and climate change, and even scheduling and promoting summits to develop a global response to the financial crisis.

Despite some Euro-enthusiasts predicting a new dominant international role for Europe, the tide has now turned. Europe's lame duck phase has come just as America seeks to exert revitalized leadership in the world. Little legislative action is possible at the European level as the European Parliament has elections in June and the Commission's term ends in the fall. The two countries controlling the rotating presidency of the Council in 2009, the Czech Republic and Sweden, have neither the resources nor the global presence to effect strong leadership and mold international issues to Europe's liking. Additionally, the EU institutions themselves remain in flux as Ireland prepares to hold a second referendum this fall on the Lisbon Treaty.

Institutional gridlock is nothing new to the European Union. But this year, the continent's lack of influence comes at a time of pressing global problems and heightened expectations for the EU. Recent European bickering over nationalist responses to the financial crisis have already revealed the EU's newly rediscovered weakness. Crucial upcoming conferences including the G20 London summit on April 2nd, and the NATO summit on April 3rd will further test Europe's ability to project a unified response.

The timing of Europe's institutional weakness is unfortunate because resolving the global financial crisis will require the concerted effort of the United States and Europe working together. Now that America has regained its international presence under the leadership of Barack Obama, the EU cannot afford to have a lame year.

Andrew Zvirzdin is a graduate student in European Studies and Economics at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (1)

yeolds Author Profile Page:

The present problems of EU are due to the idiocity exercized in Wall Street and Washington DC and the CITY in London/UK, a.k.a. fiancial meltdown. Unfortunately the virus has sped all over the world, dpsring none.
There are of copurse some who were less effected than others, such as Germany [still was making things, rather than shffling money a la RBC, Citu Bof A, etc], and others especially East mid Europeans [Hubgary, Latvia, Estonoia et al] who followed the USA dictum: borrow borrow and borrow.
The author bemoans that there is not enopugh political will to solve the fiancial/economic mess created by the Anglo-Saxon laise faire capitalism- but forgets to give any suggestions how the problem could be solved.
Looking at the two major sources of the mess, the UK and the "SOLE SUPERPOWER", it is obvious that these two countries do not have any solution, they are jumpiong form one measure to the other while taking on [or proposing to] horren dous debts and almost empty guarantees all to save the "INVESTOR"

For the 9.1 trilion dollars that the USA used to abil, to gurantee, etc, a neew national banking system could have been created, and let the gamblers loose their money. But this is too simple in the political deadlock of the USA
Senate, wher esuch measures would face AUTOMATIC SENATE BLOCKAGE by the republican members.

As for NATO, it does not serve any actual purpose, should have expired with the death of the USSR. It has no interest aside form USA interest in Afganistan, can not solve the prob4elm opf the old Yugoslavia [except by further war, bombing etc] and non of the mebers have funds for further military adventures, when their economies are on the point of collapse [we read mre and more daily about possible sovereign defauls, not the sign of wealth necessary to wage war, to waste funds on fighter aircraft, tanks etc].

The Minute the author can show that the USA has a solution for the economic/foiancial mess created therein, then he can start asking others to imitate the action.

As there is no such possible solution [the resource base of EARTH can not support endless growth] and as the USA is planning to waste another 500+ billion dollars on useless "defence" - where most of the produced goods are meant for OFFENCE, it perhaps behooves the author to indicate how the present recession/depression can turn into GROWTH.

Success now would be not growth, but a ceasing of the collapse of monetaary wealth, which has decresed by at least 40-50 troillion dollars world wide. Unfortunately the USA is far from the end of the present wealth oimplosion.

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