Latvian Institute of International Affairs
In Latvia, as in other European states, the election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States was met with widespread public approval. Despite the fact that ‘change’ was the principal theme of Obama’s campaign, there was in 2008 and there is in early 2009 no reason to anticipate fundamental changes in US-Latvian relations. These can be characterised as a strategic partnership.
Given the preoccupation of Latvians, particularly since November 2008, with their own problems, the election of a new US President has not prompted them to re-examine Latvian-US, let alone transatlantic relations. There has been no commentary in the Latvian media in recent months devoted specifically to redefining or revitalising European-American relations during the Obama Presidency.
From the meagre discussions on topics related to transatlantic relations in the Latvian media and public statements of officials, it appears that the more prevalent views on improving EU-US relations reflect many of the mainstream views of leading EU officials and political pundits elsewhere in Europe. A tentative list of recommendations from Latvia could be:
1. Europe must learn to speak with one voice. By extension, the EU must demonstrate unity of purpose, accompanied by the necessary capacity to act in line with that purpose. Thus, the EU would demonstrate more convincingly to the rest of the world that it is a credible partner to be reckoned with.
2. Firm advocacy of multilateralism rather than unilateralism or bilateralism – all involved parties should be at the discussion table.
3. Better coordination of activities on matters of common interest and common challenges, and these are a multitude.
The wish of the European Union to strengthen its role in global affairs has been all too frequently hampered by the inability of the member states to speak with one voice on important issues. This has also affected transatlantic relations by making it easier for Washington to take the initiative without adequately consulting with Brussels. Aware of these weaknesses, the EU has instituted major reforms, most notably the Lisbon Treaty, but until they are functioning considerable time will have passed. In the meanwhile, the first two steps of the Union should be simultaneous: on key issues, the EU member states should define and agree upon a common stand or policy guidelines that are binding for all member states while speeding up the reform process.
Unity of purpose in Europe is particularly important as the world becomes increasingly multi-polar with the centres of power no longer being the United States and Europe as it was at the start of this century. In the intervening years we have seen Russia successfully reassert itself and as a major power and the growing importance on the world stage of China, India, and Brazil. This is the situation as President Obama starts his presidency. From his initial statements, it is clear that Europe will continue to enjoy a special role in American foreign relations; Europe should not expect Washington to be less attentive to its relations with other major powers. Thus, the EU should realize that it too is a part of the multilateral world and is perceived as such by other players.
On areas of common interest and common challenges, such as dealing with global economic problems, and energy and climate change, renewed attention should be given to better coordination of activities and existing cooperation frameworks. Clearly, the work of the “Transatlantic Economic Council” should be enhanced. In the realm of international security, the EU member states should reassess their own cooperation, and clarify their common strategic vision, especially vis-à-vis the outside world. This, in turn, should strengthen the foundations of EU and NATO relations and facilitate practical cooperation. Efforts should also be made to raise the level of existing cooperation regarding the countries affiliated with the European Neighbourhood Policy and involved with Eastern Partnership. Willingness to do so, as has been expressed by Benita Ferrero-Waldner on 3 December 2008, should be followed up by concrete efforts.
 These ideas come from a discussion in October 2008 among members of the European Affairs Committee of the Latvian parliament and Latvian government officials. See LETA, news agency: dispatch of 20 October 2008.