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To win American support at Copenhagen, the EU must be both realistic and reciprocal

As the final week of negotiations begin at Copenhagen, it is far from clear that the United States will support any deal. To encourage US support, the EU will have to make two fundamental changes to their current negotiating strategy. Firstly, they will have to adopt a practical and realistic negotiating position towards dealing with the United States. Secondly, the EU will have to affirm that US support at Copenhagen will be reciprocated, with EU support on global issues of American concern.

For the last few months, EU pressure on President Obama  over climate change has steadily grown. If we are to follow the documents that have been released by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the proposed measures to be taken as part of any deal clearly, are not insignificant.  Alongside cuts of 20 – 30% in carbon emissions by 2020, any treaty will also supposedly include; multi-billion dollar adjustment funds for developing states, a climate tax levy on international financial transactions and the establishment of a strong enforcement capability for the UN, to ensure international fulfillment of treaty obligations.

For the EU, these intended steps form the cornerstone for success at Copenhagen. However, for the United States, such an agreement under these terms is politically impossible.

Firstly, at a basic level, it is important to note that the US public is not in tune with EU populations over the issue of climate change. while European populations view climate change as an issue of key concern, many Americans are unconvinced. In US ‘issue priority’ polling conducted since March, against the economy, health care reform and the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, climate change registers only in the low single digits Further, American opinion is in near unanimity in the belief that any final treaty must be globally inclusive (i.e. include rapidly developing states like China and India). The EU must as a result, also pressure these states to make concessions

A second key American negotiating requirement the EU must respect, is in the field of International sovereignty. Any treaty that seeks to empower a new super-national organization to enforce climate protocols, will meet immovable American political opposition.  If as has been suggested, France and Germany attempt to create an International organization that can impose penalties at the state level, the EU will negate any chance of a constructive outcome at Copenhagen. Any enforcement elements of a new treaty must be specific, well defined and under the jurisdiction of national and not international authorities.

However, assuming the EU is willing to adopt a more realistic line in its negotiations with the US, European states must also take the second step of committing to a more reciprocal foreign policy relationship with the United States. Put simply, if skeptical Americans in Congress and beyond are expected to support a Copenhagen agreement, they must be given a good reason to do so. A major contribution towards building this reasoning dynamic, would be for France and Germany to commit to an increase in forces in Afghanistan. Such action would represent a tangible, undeniable example of EU seriousness about reciprocity in US-EU relations and help build US domestic political consensus around a notion of beneficial internationalism. In the successful conduct of international relations, individual agendas must be compatible with reality. At the current time, on the issue of climate change, the EU’s agenda is incompatible with America’s political reality. If the EU continues to root its Copenhagen negotiating policy in intransigence and a lack of regard for reality, the EU’s efforts will fail to win US support. Conversely, if the EU is willing to negotiate in a principled but also pragmatic manner and in addition, is willing to reciprocate for substantive US involvement at Copenhagen, then, American support may well follow.

In the end, the comparative weakness of political whips in the US Congress, compared with European Parliaments, means that the political complexities inherent in any US move to adopt a new treaty will be vast. Any treaty will have to win significant bi-partisan support to pass. In the US Senate, achieving 67 ‘aye’ votes is a tough challenge at the best of times. As things stand, the EU has failed to internalize American political realities.


  • Crocket James 5 years ago

    True, but do we really want Climate Change reforms? What about the economy?