Most analysts would say that U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to European capitals in April 2016 underlines his personal desire to leave a legacy of his administration, in a similar fashion to what President Clinton had accomplished with the Camp David accord that was meant to pave the way for a permanent peace deal in the Middle East. By urging his European counterparts to put ink to paper on a breakthrough free trade deal between Europe and North America, Obama’s legacy before he leaves office arguably rivals that of his predecessor in the White House. Yet despite this, in their pursuit to finalize the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Obama administration encounters not only opposition from Europeans who fear an erosion of their high standards on everything from heath care, education, food to social security, but also increasingly from politically-motivated opponents inside the United States itself. The issue that has not been adequately discussed is whether the free trade deal benefits the EU more than the US, or in other words, is there more to the TTIP agenda than Obama’s personal legacy?Embed from Getty Images
Here are several factors to consider.
Energy security. Western Europe, where most of the EU member states are located, desperately need to secure their energy needs for their survival. Despite the technological capability available to generate alternative energy, there is a growing opposition domestically on the use of nuclear energy in view of recent accidents such as that in Fukushima, Japan. This leaves EU economies with no choice but to source their energy needs from oil- and gas- rich Russia. Of course, the alternative is to find a source on the North American continent such as Canada. Hence, a free trade agreement with the North Americans is essential to secure long-term deals with Canadian and U.S. energy corporations.
Cold War legacy. Although the Cold War is officially over upon the breakup of the old Soviet Union some two-and-a-half decades ago, the United States is under no illusion that Vladimir Putin’s still nuclear armed Russia represents a threat to Western civilization no less annoying than the former evil empire that prompted the post-Second World War Marshall Plan itself. It was a massive economic aid plan that was just a precursor, to eventually transform into a fully-fledged transatlantic military alliance between North American and Western European democracies, NATO. The TTIP plays a similar role to the Marshall Plan, in that it is more of a ploy to sustain the relevance of NATO in the post-Cold War era, rather than of any need to expand U.S. trade to slow-growing economies of the EU. Really, for the Americans, global trade across the Pacific Ocean is where the action is, not in Europe.
So, the reality is TTIP is likely to be more important for the United States than it is for the Europeans. For the Americans, the deal has undisputed geopolitical significance. Whereas, the Europeans can say that they can rely on the Russians for their energy needs, the Americans cannot say that they don’t need European friendship in order to contain Putin’s Russia. What this means is that the Europeans are likely to have a willing United States in their quest to ensure that any transatlantic free trade association would have a European rather than an American standard.