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'The Obama Moment' Book Launch

20 January 2010

The Obama Moment’ was launched in Brussels on 20 January 2010, the first anniversary of US President Barack Obama’s inauguration. This latest EUISS book addresses the prospects for EU-US relations during the Obama era and provides an authoritative analysis of the most topical global questions of our time: multilateralism, the economy, disarmament and climate change. The launch was attended by William E. Kennard, the US Ambassador to the EU, and Alan Seatter, a director within the EC Directorate-General for External Relations.

“The book crystallises where we are today” with respect to the challenges and choices for the new Administration and its relationship with Europe, said Ambassador Kennard. He described ‘the Obama moment’ as “an opportunity, but [one] fraught with difficulty”. Both the Ambassador and the book’s co-editor EUISS Director Álvaro Vasconcelos described Obama as a President committed to multilateralism, engagement with international partners, and an ambitious domestic agenda. For Vasconcelos, ‘the Obama moment’ means that “we as Europeans have the President we asked for”. But an increasingly multipolar world demands a paradigm shift in transatlantic relations, he said, because the EU and the US cannot solve most global problems without other major actors. Departing from the view of one of the book’s authors Daniel Hamilton, Vasconcelos opined that the transatlantic relationship is thus not always indispensable, though it retains a central importance.

The Ambassador acknowledged that Obama faces enormous challenges and expectations, but expressed confidence that a strengthening of the transatlantic partnership could yield significant progress with respect to a multitude of shared priorities. It was a view echoed by Alan Seatter, who explored the concept of turning the Obama moment into ‘momentum’, outlining the prospects of significant gains for the transatlantic economy, transborder security, crisis response and climate change.

The book’s co-editor, EUISS Senior Research Fellow Marcin Zaborowski, was circumspect about whether Obama has so far delivered the change that he promised. Zaborowski described Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo as a “breakthrough”, but the same could not be said for the foreign policy priorities of Afghanistan, the Middle East and Iran. The return to a multilateralist foreign policy is a turning point for the US, said Zaborowksi, who wrote in the book that the Obama moment “is an opportunity that neither the US nor the EU can afford to squander”.

Attendees, including several high-level officials from the European Commission and over twenty leading Brussels-based correspondents, were given the opportunity to ask questions and participate in the ensuing debate. Several copies of the book were distributed to participants, which can also be downloaded from the EUISS website.