The U.S. and Europe Need Each Other Now More Than Ever

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The shared transatlantic effort that has served America and Europe so well is still crucial to the problems both face today.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Brussels, Belgium. (Reuters)

What kind of economic patriotism is needed or even possible if the West is to compete with global forces? For decades, the US was big enough to go it alone. No more. Today it discovers that it has a huge stake in Europe's economic scale and well-being. Germany discovers that it risks being too big for Europe and not big enough for the rest of the world. The rest of Europe discovers that relying on Germany's big checkbook is not a winning proposition in a complex crisis. This is why the current century will be defined by how Europe and the US come together to redefine and restate the values and principles we hold dear.

A renewed US-EU linkage will not happen on its own. It requires careful coordination of economic, diplomatic, and security efforts across difficult regions. Including Turkey and Israel in this process, however difficult it may be, will be critical for its success. And a test case for its prospects lies in front of us: the Syrian crisis. A similar challenge is Iran's nuclear program and here the signs are promising for an unprecedented US-EU coordination.

Instead of whiny letters and complaints about the US's refocusing and lack of security guarantees, Europe--and here I include the new EU and NATO members--should step up and meaningfully occupy the strategic seat in the region. Some obvious goals include completing the unfinished job of bringing the Western Balkans into the fold of the West and ensuring an effective European energy policy that reduces Russia's spoiler role. Countries like mine--Romania--and Poland have long argued for coordination of defense reform in EU and European NATO countries, in order to build a robust deterrence capacity that would leave us less dependent on the US.

The link goes both ways. Europe's role in the US economy is unparalleled. The presidential election may depend on the outcome of the European search for solutions. If Europe's economy suddenly goes south, the prospects for the US growth, investment, and employment are equally dire.

As investors and customers for each other's goods and services, these economic partners are intertwined. Still, they need to do better in making their ties bear on global processes and developments. There are calls on both sides of the Atlantic, for example, for an agency or bank for small and medium enterprises. These businesses feel the pinch of global competition more than ever--and they also provide the type of inspired innovation that keeps our economies competitive.

Beyond joint economic and military security, there is a need to pool technology and research platforms and aim jointly for solutions to challenges like climate change, energy, and food security.

My country finds itself on what I call a double periphery, of both geography and influence. It is a dark place for countries that have limited tools to dig themselves out. Private economic interests are increasingly gaining controlling stakes in politics. The resulting imbalance between multinational corporations and domestic investors creates a vortex that leads to a black hole in politics. The risk is of the deficits in democracy and breakdowns in governance. This is of concern to both electoral democracy and the ability of central governments to effectively plan economic strategy.

Unprotected from the tsunami-like effects of Euro Zone contagion, the region already sees increasing pressures on borrowing rates. Coupled with a dangerous flight of investors and the hesitations of large-scale direct investors, this pressure could damage twenty years of democratic and economic achievements. It is a threat to strategic western interests not only in Europe but also across this frontier region and towards Central Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Romania is among the European countries where the toxic mixture of recession and years of bad governance brought political upheavals. This is a grave risk to Europe and the transatlantic link. Letting economic and governance performance slip will create a de facto division and hinder the success of Europe as a political and economic partner for America. In good years, releasing the region's potential added hefty chunks to the Euro Zone economy's growth. Now in reverse, the new economic vulnerability costs the EU dearly. Austerity policies--unnecessary, misconceived, or both--are stifling growth across the continent.

We recently achieved some long-awaited clarity through the decision of Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, to buy bonds from those states that need and request support. The markets, and also politicians, received with an almost audible sigh of relief the decision by the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe to uphold the EU Stability Pact. But even these favorable decisions will be enough for a European turnaround.

For Romania, this means that we will need to overcome our differences and get the country back on track for growth and democratic reform. We can't wait for Brussels to do it for us. In a European Union focusing on its Euro zone crisis and the shadow of American repositioning, Eastern Europe feels isolated and confused. This is true for EU member states like mine and even more acutely for soon-to-be EU members in the Western Balkans, and Europe's eastern neighborhood all the way to the Caucasus and the Caspian. This is why while we need some housecleaning we also need some guiding light. A new common vision.

Getting there requires a new clarity in the European process. There is a time for grand political projects and a time for crisis management--and now Europe needs to find a way of doing both at the same time. US is in the same situation. We'd better talk!

Exactly 15 years ago, Romania and the US signed a strategic partnership agreement. This year, the document was renewed. Because of both geography as much and solid commitment, Romania is one of the countries that serve as host to the Anti-Missile Shield that the US and NATO will operate in Eastern Europe.

Beyond security, my country needs political support inside the EU and significant help in its struggle to return to integrity, good governance, and wise policymaking. This means investment and an EU-wide policy to counter the periphery's vortex. And it means room for increasing social justice.

Europe and America are not bound to fail. But seen from Romania, it is evident that they can only be truly successful if they apply a transatlantic logic to their current challenges. We need to go together beyond a narrow interpretation of current events and economic circumstances and find new focus for our common destiny.

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Mircea Geoana, a Romanian politician, has served as ambassador to the U.S., foreign minister, and president of the senate.

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