Key words in the political language of the new US president are dialogue, engagement and inclusivity.  They constitute part of what he refers to as new politics.  In his final campaign rallies before the Nov 4 election, he regularly ended with the slogans:  we’ll change America, we’ll change the world.  There is no doubt that he has become president to pursue the national interests of the United States but in his speech and writings Obama almost intrinsically links in to issues of concern to the rest of the world.  The international context is never far away, it is part of him.

Not in a patronizing manner but by engaging the world to share responsibility in dealing with the global concerns of climate change, the financial crises and economic recession, world poverty, terrorism, crime, nuclear proliferation and so on.  His bi-racial and cosmopolitan identity and intellectual capacities are great attributes in relating to and dealing with the great challenges of our time.  His style and personality easily connects to people within, see the large turn-outs for his campaign rallies, and outside the US with reference to the 200.000 persons turning out to listen to him in Berlin earlier this year.  It is telling that his election was secured by the substantial support he received from the young generation.   It is his message of hope that something can be done to address the global concerns – of which climate change and greening the economy is high on his list of priorities – that has mobilized so much enthusiasm among so many people across the ocean as in other parts of the world.

People recognize in Obama a leader with a vision and with a drive to do something about it.  He has changed the familiar language of fighting wars against terrorism, fighting against the forces of evil, against the ‘other’ for a language that engages people to get involved in addressing the issues of concern.  The mobilization against something has changed in a mobilization for something.  Politics embedded in military lingo has changed in language of policy solutions.    That represents a fundamental shift in how politics is approached and may go some way to shift the prevailing pessimistic atmosphere in the world (the twin sister of the economic recession) into a positive climate.  The unusual large turn-out at the elections indicates that politics matters again, that it has become relevant again in the eyes of the US citizens.  It is democracy come alive.

That is all good news from the European perspective.  Washington has not been listening for too long.  But is the European Union ready to respond in kind?  The new style of Obama is not only about looks but also about substance.  The US hegemony of the past twenty years is gradually replaced by a multi-polar world in which the EU will be challenged to take a larger share of the burden in managing, in cooperation with the US and other emerging power centers, the global concerns.  Is the EU ready for this challenge?   A more efficient EU foreign policy is locked up in the delayed ratification and implementation of the much needed Lisbon Treaty. The EU Council of Ministers has met twice to prepare itself for the new incoming US Administration but EU foreign policy remains primarily reactive.  With the changing geo-political relations, how long can the EU continue to afford spending more time talking to each other about foreign policy issues rather than engaging partners pro-actively to drive foreign policy agendas?

EU foreign policy is firmly based on support for multilateral institutions to govern the global concerns and on support for institutions that enforce and widen international rule of law.  The election of Obama opens the opportunity for a return to the drawing board of the current international architecture, review it with the intention to give the various regions of this world their due voice at the table, and design a new architecture that is better equipped to manage the resources of the planet  fairly and sustainable while reinforcing the shared universal human rights values as ratified in the various UN declarations and protocols.  A review of the Bretton Woods institutions as discussed at the summit in New York on November 15th should only be a step in a much wider review of the international system and should not pre-judge a more comprehensive review.

We have missed the opportunity to adapt the international architecture after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when democracy was spreading around the world.  We’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of that momentous occasion next year.  The elections of Obama has also been qualified as a historic transformative moment.  Would this not be the moment for initiatives to compliment better international economic and financial management with better (more democratic) international governance?  Yes, we can.