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Europe

Experts: EU Lacks Unity in Responding to Obama's Demands

US President-elect Barack Obama faces a full plate of tasks when he takes office -- and Europe will be asked to the table. But will the EU be able to agree on its responsibilities and be willing to take on more?

Barack Obama and the presidential seal

Obama's dizzying rise to the presidency wowed much of Europe but now it's crunch time

During his campaign, US President-elect Barack Obama said he believed the invasion of Iraq undermined efforts to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He has vowed to focus more strongly on Afghanistan after taking office on Jan. 20.

Yet with a serious economic crisis battering the United States, the new administration in Washington will have less financial leeway to put money into security issues. Analysts agree that Obama will call on the Europeans for help, for example in increasing the number of international troops in Afghanistan.

According to the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin, the European Union has to be ready to face these demands.

"The EU member states have to clarify: What do we expect from the Americans? What can we offer them?" DGAP's Eberhard Sandschneider said. However, the EU at the moment was "not capable of acting."

In addition, the EU's rotating presidency this year is being held by two small and less influential countries: the Czech Republic at present and from July, Sweden. They will hardly have the ability to bring the EU into a common position, Sandschneider said.

Germany should set a good example

Obama is expected to seek more support in Afghanistan, particularly from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Barack Obama with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Obama will expect European allies such as German Chancellor Merkel to take more responsibilty on international issues

Sarkozy has already signaled a willingness to add several hundred more troops. Their use would remain restricted, though.

Germany and France have over 3,000 troops each in Afghanistan. But they are limited to peacekeeping, rebuilding and training missions, and are banned from participating in the heavy fighting in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Days after Obama's election, Merkel made it clear she would not yield to pressure to send troops to fight.

For Obama to succeed on the issue in Europe, he will have to maintain a sustained dialog, said Jackson Janes, an analyst of US-European relations at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University. The new president will have to persuade the German and French public that it's in their national security interests to ensure that NATO prevails in Afghanistan, rather than to simply make demands, Janes said.

"Obama needs to get into their heads that we are not just talking about (President George W.) Bush now, we are talking about a strategic framework," Janes said.

Sandschneider said it was now important for the German government to set a good example.

"The times in which other countries ensured our security are over," he said. "Security costs money. Our politicians have to make that clear to the citizens."

In addition, after years of complaining about Bush, Europe should show a desire to help Obama tackle the vast foreign policy challenges he will face after he takes office, Janes said.

"There has to be a willingness on the part of the European leadership to want to help this man," Janes said.

US plans could boost German economy

The upcoming German parliamentary elections in September could not be used as a pretext to dodge costs and foreign policy responsibilities, Sandschneider said.

"Whoever wants to utilize the opportunities of globalization has to be willing to participate in the costs of worldwide stabilization," Sandschneider said.

According to Sandschneider, Obama's planned economic stimulus package could also benefit Germany economically, as it included investments in renewable energies. German companies are worldwide pioneers in this sector and could tap new business opportunities across the Atlantic.

In addition, German support for Obama's efforts to resume talks with Iran would have "positive effects" on the dependency on Russian gas reserves, Sandschneider said. A peaceful Iraq also offered alternatives to the gas and oil dependency on Moscow.

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