Transatlantic fresh start

It would be wonderful to think that the intense interest with which Europeans are following today's US presidential election might be matched by Americans watching the European parliamentary elections in June 2009. Today the US takes part in the most exciting, and potentially the most important, presidential election in decades. In two months there will be a new administration and Congress in Washington DC. Across the Atlantic - the necessity to ratify the Lisbon treaty notwithstanding - there will by next summer be a new European parliament, and by next autumn in all likelihood a new European commission.

This transition on both sides of the Atlantic presents a fresh challenge and a huge opportunity - to relaunch transatlantic relations on a new and more positive footing. We need to put differences and misunderstandings behind us. In Washington and Brussels we should seize the chance to engage in new thinking and commit ourselves to work together on a common agenda for prosperity and peace, not just in Europe and North America but across the globe.

We need to prepare the ground immediately. That's why I intend to invite the winner of today's election to come and address the European parliament next year. I would like the new president to visit us in April, on perhaps his first European tour, immediately before the Nato summit. The last time - indeed the only time - that a US president addressed a plenary session of the European parliament was when Ronald Reagan did so in 1985 in Strasbourg, during the cold war years.

We have already been strengthening links between the European parliament and Congress at all levels - between parliamentary delegations, between policy committees, between political groups, and between administrative staff. We will continue that important process, speaking frankly as colleagues and friends. At the same time, the symbolic value of a presidential visit to strengthening the bonds between our two great democratic systems cannot be underestimated.

The emerging global agenda - of turmoil in the financial markets, climate change, energy security, the Middle East, terrorism and international crime, western responses to the rise of China and India, demographic change and ageing societies - requires legislators to work together on an international scale. If the EU and the US can do this successfully, we can be a major force for prosperity, peace and civilised values.

We have a new political commitment to building a barrier-free transatlantic single market in goods and services. Both the US Congress and the European parliament will need to agree to many regulatory and other changes involved in this long-term project.

Our work also needs to address public opinion directly, especially among the young. Successive opinion surveys show that the faith of the younger generation of Europeans in the US has been falling in recent years. The bond of mutual trust and admiration is becoming weaker. This is worrying and needs to be reversed.

The tensions that arose from the handling of Iraq go a long way to explaining this. There is a sense of hope by many in Europe that the new US president will seek to reverse this trend by demonstrating America's willingness to operate on the international stage in a spirit of partnership.

We in the EU must aim to put transatlantic relations on a firmer, more positive and more successful foundation. All of us in our different ways can help make this happen. As parliamentarians, business people and members of civic society, we should make reality a vibrant transatlantic partnership that can offer hope to the world.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, president of the European parliament.