spellmanU.S. and European Union officials finished their second round of talks earlier last month in Brussels, largely it seems to demonstrate that a “constructive” process is underway to establish the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). At this early stage, there are few signs of progress in addressing any of the most difficult and complex issues that will determine if the world’s two largest markets form a free trade union.

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bod.grayChancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election in September is good news for Germany and for Europe, but the election results are a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, Merkel garnered a greater percentage of the vote than any candidate since Helmut Kohl’s post-reunification victory in 1990, and she did so as a two-term incumbent weathering a global recession. This was a resounding victory for Merkel personally and a vindication of the economic initiatives that she championed in her first two terms as Chancellor. Few remember that just a decade ago, Germany was the “sick man of Europe,” suffering slower economic growth than its neighbors to the south. Then, at the end of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s term, Germany underwent a series of Reagan-Thatcher-style regulatory reforms (primarily of its labor-market rules) to stabilize unit-labor costs. The results were striking: Within two or three years, Germany had left its sickbed and was on its way to becoming the colossus of Europe. Merkel seized on this momentum when she came to office in 2005 and made Germany the undisputed, if reluctant, leader of Europe.

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lamassoureEurope is at the crossroads.  Of course, whenever we speak about Europe or transatlantic relations, we are always at the crossroads, but it’s at a crossroad on four major issues.  The next 18 months will be decisive to know whether Europe will choose the right direction or not.

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chrisboam2013On a foggy night in October 2003, my wife and I found ourselves late for an expected arrival in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland.  Shortly after dark, we entered a part of the Dingle Peninsula route known as the Conor Pass, not being at all adequately briefed as to what this road entailed.  At one point, my wife – who had taken over the driving – asked me what I was looking at.  The real answer was indeed “nothing,” for despite the pitch-blackness, it had been clear to me for at least a mile that we were driving along the edge of a shear cliff face.  I did my best at being nonchalant.  “Just keep focused on the road ahead, and we can talk about it in Tralee.”  We did arrive safely, but still, I made sure that we ordered pints before looking at guidebook pictures of the Pass.

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garretmartinThe agreement signed between Kosovo and Serbia on 19th April was a stunning and major breakthrough; a significant compromise that opens the possibility of a normalization of relations for the two former belligerents and could unlock their accession path to the European Union. It was yet another vindication of the constructive and leading role played by the EU in the Balkans for over a decade, in stark contrast with the traumatic failures of the 1990s. Thus, even during the Eurozone turmoil, the EU can still remain a major diplomatic player. It was also a very sweet moment for the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, who played an instrumental role in mediating the negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade. That accord will not be easy to implement, and will face some resistance. But it could prove a game changer in the Balkans, providing new momentum to the stalling process of reform in the various countries in the region and to their road to EU accession.

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