INTERVIEW with Ambassador Norman L. Eisen – Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.
EUBULLETIN: Europe is currently going through a very challenging period. The economy is not yet back on track, unemployment is persistently high, and the length of the conflict in Ukraine has taken all by surprise. Moreover, the EU must deal with migration pressure and increasing mistrust of EU nationals in institutions. From your perspective as former Ambassador to the Czech Republic, what is your personal “ranking” of these problems in terms of importance?
Eisen: I think the problems are interlinked. The economic weakness has contributed to most NATO members falling far below their 2 percent of GDP defense spending target, which has in turn emboldened Mr. Putin. The economic privation also spurs intolerance and the rise of extreme political parties. All of those issues can be prioritized – all must be addressed with urgency, though if I were forced to choose, economics is perhaps at the core.
EUBULLETIN: What is, in your opinion, the role of small EU member states in shaping policies while trying to solve these problems? Traditionally, these issues seem to have been the domain of the biggest EU countries such as Germany, France or the UK.
Eisen: I believe that small countries have a critical role to play, particularly if several small and medium size countries work together around particular issues. Take free trade, for example. The Czech Republic and other small and medium size countries would disproportionately benefit if the EU and the U.S. were able to achieve a free trade agreement. If these countries band together, they can counterbalance sentiments of larger countries to the contrary on certain issues under TTIP. The smaller EU member states can play an important role by helping to bring such a coalition together. The same is true in other areas where a small European country, such as the Czech Republic, has traditionally been a leader, such as human rights or support for Israel.
EUBULLETIN: It seems that the conflict in Ukraine has unexpectedly tightened political relations across the Atlantic. Since the beginning of the conflict, both the U.S. and the EU have intensively cooperated to shape the “anti-Russia” policy. Sanctions are likely the most important part of this policy but they have had ambiguous results so far. What should be, in your opinion, the next steps Washington and Brussels should take to advance the solution to the conflict?
Eisen: You said the magic word, sanctions. We need truly tough sanctions with real unity behind them, as the West has, for example, demonstrated towards Iran. I know that will be painful for some businesses and some nations’ economies, but in the long term the price will be even higher if we do not stop Mr. Putin.