European Affairs

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Jacqueline Grapin

Transatlantic Tango

It takes two to tango, and Europe and the United States are certainly trying to dance together to the same global music. Experts call it interdependence. But while they are attracted to each other by both destiny and necessity, the two sides of the Atlantic are not always in step. They often have different aspirations. Europe is in a socialistic mood these days, while the United States is passing through one of its more capitalist phases.

Perhaps they should change the tune - the one accompanying missile defense, for instance. In committing themselves to the program, President George W. Bush and his advisers may not have appreciated its destabilizing effects. Or was the purpose also to destabilize Europe's aspirations to its own defense system, which - even if it is kept within NATO - will oblige the United States to adjust to a new balance of forces? The European Union cannot afford to pay at the same time for its integration, for its enlargement, for the modernization of its military forces, and for missile defense as well. Meanwhile, NATO is being harmed.

If Transatlantic relations are to be harmonious, each side must understand the political background against which the other has to operate. Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, and Pascal Lamy, the European trade commissioner, are masters of this art. They inherited a heavy load of seemingly insoluble problems. But they have found a recipe for success. They know each other, like each other, and observe each other carefully every time they need to make a move.

They have even produced a miraculous agreement on bananas, for which hope had almost been abandoned after months of agonizing discussions over the demands of companies selling a fruit that neither Europe nor the United States produces on its soil. If the two top trade officials could do this, they should be able to do more, including bringing their constituencies to the table for a new round of multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organization. But there is still more to the Transatlantic challenge.

Europe and the United States are out of tune on climate control, with extremely different approaches to the Kyoto protocol on global warming. Europe says it is still aiming to meet the Kyoto target of a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases to a level five percent lower than in 1990 by 2012, and is ready to make economic sacrifices to reach this goal. American leaders are unwilling to face the huge costs of meeting the Kyoto target in the United States. The dispute is polluting the political atmosphere.

A Waltz with Putin

By contrast, Mr. Bush's waltz with Russian President Putin in Slovenia seemed relatively easy. "I was able to get a sense of his soul," Mr. Bush said after their meeting. "He's an honest, straightforward man who loves his country. He loves his family." And the Washington Post reported that Mr. Bush added: "I wouldn't have invited him to my ranch if I didn't trust him."

It all sounds too good to be true - and certainly much better than Mr. Bush's relationship with Romano Prodi and Javier Solana, the two EU leaders in whom he does not appear to be very interested. Some believe that Mr. Bush prefers bilateral relations with national politicians to a balanced dialogue with a more powerful European Union comprising 375 million rich and educated people. Interestingly, this may be an unexpected way to keep the Europeans together.

A number of other issues will inevitably cause frictions in the months to come. They include the credibility of the projected International Court, which the United States opposes; the extraterritorial reach of American law; and continuing problems posed by the U.S. Senate's failure to ratify international treaties such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was negotiated under U.S. auspices and is now binding on other countries.

The 21st Century will teach us all that power, even if it is "super," can be used only as long as others are ready to accept it. While American military superiority and economic might are undeniable, and Russia remains an enormous country, these advantages will only benefit the countries that enjoy them if they are also employed to benefit others. This is a lesson that Europe has already learned at its own expense from its colonial experience, and also should not forget. The new leaders of the United States and of the emerging European Union need to listen to each other on equal terms. That will be more difficult for the supremely powerful United States. But it is unavoidable if the Transatlantic tango is to proceed happily and smoothly.

Jacqueline Grapin


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number III in the Summer of 2001.

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