September 2, 2008

English summary

This issue of Diplomaatia is about new world leaders. In Europe, Angela Merkel, who after two years in office has become an undisputed international leader, has now been joined by Nicolas Sarkozy in France and by Gordon Brown in the United Kindom. Russia and the United States will elect new presidents before the end of next year.

This issue of Diplomaatia is about new world leaders. In Europe, Angela Merkel, who after two years in office has become an undisputed international leader, has now been joined by Nicolas Sarkozy in France and by Gordon Brown in the United Kindom. Russia and the United States will elect new presidents before the end of next year.

English summary

This issue of Diplomaatia is about new world leaders. In Europe, Angela Merkel, who after two years in office has become an undisputed international leader, has now been joined by Nicolas Sarkozy in France and by Gordon Brown in the United Kindom. Russia and the United States will elect new presidents before the end of next year.
In his interview with Diplomaatia, the seasoned EU-watcher and chairman of the Brussels-based Eurocomment, Peter Ludlow, argues that the star is undoubtedly Angela Merkel. “She is head and shoulders above everybody. Universally respected, extremely sensible and effective, balanced in her approach and has just come through one of the most successful presidencies the European Union has ever had,” he says.
Of the two newer leaders he is more sceptical, noting that, “Sarkozy had a pretty mediocre record in the government when he was a minister. He is obviously an effective showman, and has clearly demonstrated that he is good at attracting attention, but it is far from clear that any of this is very serious or that what he will do will be any good. He has espoused causes rhetorically that would, if he pursued them, lead him into conflict with several European leaders, including Chancellor Merkel. But Sarkozy is basically a pragmatist – he’ll step down and give way, because France is not as powerful as it used to be.”
He sees Gordon Brown as “an altogether more interesting figure …unlike Sarkozy, he was a pretty impressive minister. But as far as Europe is concerned, he has yet to show that he has any serious understanding of what Europe is, how it works, how it should work, what he wants to get out of it. Also, Britain is a rather marginal player in the European Union, mostly because it has chosen to be marginal. It is far from clear that Brown will have the imagination or intelligence to break out of that self-imposed isolation. But if he does, he will be rather good, I think.”
Ludlow also says that Europe’s relations with the US should not be personalised because the large measure of mutual interest in this relationship makes it naturally very stable. However, the interests and world-views of Europe and the US do not and will not coincide to the extent they did during the Cold War.
And on the relationship between the EU and Russia, Ludlow says that “we have a rather interesting example of the way in which EU membership has fostered solidarity. Many individual leaders would undoubtedly voice reservations if not exasperations about the Poles, yet there is no question at all that the Western Europeans, or at least the key West-ern Europeans including Angela Merkel, have acquired a far deeper understanding of what bothers Poland and other Central and
Eastern European countries – and indeed the Baltic states – about Russia. This has been a very interesting learning experience.”
His appreciation of Angela Merkel is shared by the former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, who praises Merkel’s handling of European affairs, including the presidency, as well as her approaches towards the US, Russia and smaller European countries. However, Laar argues that Merkel’s two weak spheres are Europe’s enlargement (“differently from Helmut Kohl, Merkel has not managed to do anything radical to enlarge Europe”) and the economy (both Germany’s domestic reforms and efforts to make Europe as a whole more competitive). Therefore, Laar argues, the jury is still out on Merkel as a leader.
The chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament, Marko Mihkelson, writes about Gordon Brown. He acknowledges that, contrary to many expectations, Brown has turned out to be more popular than the Tory leader David Cameron – certainly popular enough to be able to shape British politics according to his own views. But what are these? According to Mihkelson, Brown’s introvert personality means that he is shy to make statements on foreign policy and it is hard to know his views with any certainty.
Margo Pajuste, a freelance journalist, writes about Nicolas Sarkozy that, “he has already managed one big thing: the relationship between France and the US has started to warm up. Differently from Chirac, who saw a united Europe as a counterweight to the United States, Sarkozy thinks that partnership between the US and Europe is possible.” Inside Europe, however, Sarkozy is likely to follow Chirac’s example of always treating the interests of France as a bigger priority than the common European good.
Sven Mikser, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament writes about the preelection landscape in the US. He says that at the forthcoming elections, foreign policy will unavoidably be a campaign topic – one that some of the potential candidates are familiar with and others not. Surprisingly, in the most urgent areas of foreign policy, the parties’ agendas are not very different – for example, neither can formulate a good exit strategy from Iraq.
Mikser argues that Estonia’s interests lie in the foundations of US foreign policy remaining idealistic, although many of the means used by Bush need rethinking. “It is in Estonia’s interest that the world superpower should base its foreign policy on values rather than pragmatism,” he writes. “A world where interests dominate over values would be a much more complicated place for small states.”
Finally, the director of the International Centre for Defence Studies, Kadri Liik, discusses the changes that the forthcoming elections will bring in Russia. She argues that although very few people in Russia, especially among the elites, are interested in changes, they are inevitable because the current political system is based on Vladimir Putin’s genuine popularity, which is unlikely to be transferred to his handpicked successor. With a less popular president, the current semi-authoritarian political system will either have to democratise or become even more authoritarian. Furthermore, even a handpicked successor may turn out not to be controllable by Putin and the current elite consolidated around him.

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