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Will Obama be the only President of the United States in 2009?

ObamaThere’s no doubting the Obama magnetism. I’m a Brit living in Brussels but next week, like much of the rest of the world, I will be eagerly watching as Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. While the world has been focused on Washington, however, developments at a meeting of the heads of state of the 27 countries of the EU in December may have paved the way for another President of the United States to emerge. Back in June, the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty -the EU’s efforts to redefine its remit and structures -by the Irish voters had thrown the EU into a crisis. However, in the December deal, described by the Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen as a”major achievement for Ireland”, it was agreed the country will vote again before the end of October, paving the way for the Treaty to enter into force before the end of 2009. Before those who foam at the mouth at the mere mention of the EU get excited about my headline, I hold my hands up to a bit of hyperbole. No direct comparison can be made between the envisaged structure under the Treaty and the federal system in the US. Countries such as Finland will retain more autonomy than states such as Florida; Austria more than Alaska. Moreover, it’s no given that the Irish will vote yes, while the Czech Republic, Poland or the UK could all yet throw a spanner in the works.That being said, the Lisbon Treaty would bring in some major changes.There are important but slightly mundane ones, such as more majority voting and more policy areas involving the Parliament, but also eye-catching ones too. There will be a new permanent President who will chair the meetings of the European leaders for a renewable term of 2.5 years (at last, the headline starts to make sense.) At the moment, the country controlling the Presidency swaps every six months in a merry-go-round that ensures everyone has their turn but makes it all a little confusing to the outsider. No more will Kissinger’s successors be able to question who to call when they want to call Europe.External relations will also be bolstered by an EU diplomatic corps and a more powerful foreign policy chief. “So what’s the impact for the tech industry?” I hear you ask. The answer is quite a lot, in areas such as advancing the green agenda and reducing both internal and external barriers to trade. The EU is a dominant force in Europe when it comes to setting the framework for regulations affecting next generation networks, broadband wireless and VoIP to name but a few. In terms of the green agenda, the Lisbon Treaty makes an important reference to climate change as a key challenge for Europe. As green issues continue to grow in importance, our challenge as Cisco and the high tech industry is to ensure we are recognised as part of the solution and not part of the problem.The second major impact for the tech industry is important simplifications of the decision making process which should make it easier to do business by putting the vast array of diverging national laws into a single framework. The single market is one of the most important elements of the EU for Cisco and for business in general. It enables us to reduce compliance costs and barriers to trade, and enables economies of scale in production and distribution of our products. A third change is that the European Parliament will have an increased role in trade negotiations. It is too early to say whether this is a good or a bad thing for open trade. Some commentators fear that the Parliament will politicise the process of trade negotiations, while others see it as closing the democratic deficit.Whether or not the Irish voters embrace the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, it is set to be a year of shake-ups for the EU institutions with elections to determine a new European Parliament and the appointment of a new Commission, including a new Commissioner for the Information Society. So while I won’t be able to help glancing over at Obama’s first year in office, I’m going to spend plenty of time watching events unfold closer to home.

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