Guest post by Rolf Mutzenich, Member of the Bundestag.
Europe could hardly wait for President Obama's inauguration. Yet the expectations placed on the new president are far too high, and are partly due to the longing for a contrast with George W. Bush. Hopes for a radical change in course are also caused to some degree by idealistic, wishful thinking in Europe regarding a multilateral American foreign policy. Nonetheless, the mood of optimism in the US is genuine, despite the crisis. And it is spreading to Europe. The signals in the field of disarmament and arms control, in particular, offer grounds for hope.
Despite this hope, however, Europe should not overlook the fact that Obama's scope for action is limited in political and financial terms, and that the new US President will hardly be in a position to work all the miracles expected of him. In addition, Obama wants to consolidate the United States' position of leadership in the world. If necessary, he will act alone and without regard for others.
If there is to be a new beginning in transatlantic relations, it is important to realise that the US is no longer a "European power", as it surely was in the good old days of the Cold War. Today, the United States' strategic interests lie in the Pacific, the Middle East and South Asia.
Moreover, Europe is far from united and still does not speak with one voice. As long as the Lisbon Treaty remains unratified, this is unlikely to change. We need the reforms it contains and we need a European foreign minister. Only a Europe which speaks with one voice and puts forward a shared position can expect to be taken seriously.
This brings me to my assessment of the special relationship between the UK and the United States. Winston Churchill once delivered the following furious riposte to a stubborn de Gaulle: "Every time we must choose between Europe and the open sea, we will always choose the open sea."
Many Europeans still see the UK as the United States' unsinkable aircraft carrier in Europe. Yet it should not be forgotten that the special relationship between the UK and the US is relatively new, from a historical perspective. It is impossible to say whether the Central Powers would have lost the First World War even if America had not entered the war. The only certainty is that afterwards there was no point at which they could have won. The fact that America refrained from using its newly won power following the war, leaving Europe to itself, spared the British elite from having to recognise that their empire was overstretched in power-political terms.
As a result, relations between the UK and the US were not without tension or even humiliations. It was impossible to continue a relationship on equal terms after the Second World War, because the two sides were no longer equal. In 1956, the Suez Crisis marked the end of Britain's status as a global power. Today, the UK can do comparatively little for America in political, economic or military terms.
What does remain is a certain sentimentality, visible again in the Falklands war, and more enduring on this side of the Atlantic than the other. With Barack Obama's inauguration as US President, this memory of a shared Anglo-Saxon culture is fading, and demographic change means it is weakening in the UK, too.
What remains of the special relationship is the unique peaceful replacement of one world power by another, and the resulting development of a special love-hate relationship between two related and friendly nations.