Is the US power waning or just shifting from traditional priorities? Is Europe still the Washington’s reliable NATO partner? Has NATO lost its focus?  The fourth instalment of the BratislavaCHAT series, organised by the Slovak Atlantic Commission (SAC), featured Ambassador Kurt Volker, in a debate that proved to be the highlight of the series so far.

The relationship between the United States and Europe has been as mutually essential as it has been causing headaches on both sides of the Atlantic. From the Marshall Plan through Henry Kissingerlooking up the Europe’s phone number to recent spying allegations, mutual feelings were being redefined over and again.

NATO has been the key element in the US-Europe relationship which has been defined by repeated calls from Washington for Europe to do more. On the other hand, Europe, while not disputing the US leadership, often felt it does contribute but perhaps in a different way than Washington envisaged.

The two sides were, however, capable of working together towards the same end as operation in Afghanistan or Kosovo showed. However, that spirit of unity, driven perhaps by the echoes and enthusiasm of the two waves of enlargement that saw former Warsaw Pact countries joining the Alliance, has been lost and while many other aspirant countries are ready and participate in NATO led operations, the Alliance itself is not ready now to accept new members. It needs to regain its momentum and renew its sense of purpose by starting to conduct exercises again but in a 21st century manner and challenge serious issues.

Aside from the defence and security cooperation, the US and the EU are now involved in complicated free trade agreement negotiations. The benefits of such a deal are clear to both sides – cost reductions, boost of trade, job creation and a resulting GDP growth. Regulations harmonisation, however, remains the biggest issue as legal requirements from electrical through automotive to environmental standards are different. It remains to be seen how the regulators on both sides of the Atlantic will react to harmonisation proposals.

All this comes in an era when both Europe, or rather the European Union, and the US are facing their home-grown problems albeit most of them derive from the global financial crisis.

While both US parties are turning their attention to the US domestic politics, listening to the demands of voters to fix the economy, the US remains an unchallenged global military superpower. However, it is unlikely that the focus on domestic issues will result in a long term US retreat from global affairs.

The debate with Kurt Volker was also an opportunity to reflect on the 20-year effort of Slovakia to first become and then to act as a fully-fledged member of the Euro-Atlantic community. That achievement would not have been possible without the hard work of long-term advocates of NATO enlargement, such as Kurt Volker himself, who contributed with both their time and experience to advance Slovakia’s and Central Europe’s ambitions. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Slovak Atlantic Commission awarded Mr Volker a commemorative medal in a symbolic gesture of gratitude for his diplomatic efforts and advisory work for the Commission.