European Affairs

Now that the U.S. elections are over, there is good opportunity to restore the Transatlantic relationship on the basis of the fundamental principles that have governed links between Europe and the United States since the end of World War II. An unprecedented conjunction of leadership changes on both sides of the Atlantic should help us to make a new start.

The United States has a re-elected President and a new Congress. Europe has a new European Parliament, elected in June, and a new European Commission, both of which for the first time include representatives of the ten new member states that joined the European Union in May 2004.

After four highly divisive and controversial years there should now be a reasonable chance of returning to a somewhat more balanced Transatlantic relationship, one in which the two sides listen to each other, do not try to impose their views and use all the means available to them to achieve their objectives once agreement is reached.

Such confidence is based on the hope that the United States will prefer to assume the mantle of global leadership, rather than try to dominate the world, after coming to understand the limits of military, financial and moral overstretch. It was the well-known U.S. foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski who recently defined the choice facing the United States as being between global domination and global leadership.

Richard Haass, President of the U. Council on Foreign Relations, has predicted that the next phase of the Transatlantic relationship will be more realistic and less emotional than in the postwar period. Even if that is so, we should be able to manage our disagreements respectfully, if genuine and thorough consultations fail to lead to an agreement. In any case, the rifts in the Transatlantic alliance over the past two to three years should now be consigned to the past. In the uncertain world of the 21st century, both sides now understand that it might be desirable to have permanent allies. Europe would like to be the special partner of a United States guided by a respected global leader. We should return to the basic fundamentals that have governed Transatlantic relations since the inception of European unification after World War II. The most important of these fundamentals has been active U.S. support for European integration. Although there were sometimes questions and anxieties in Washington whenever Europe took an important step forward, there was no doubt about the traditional multilateralist approach of the United States.

Now we have a huge list of challenges in front of us that none of us can successfully tackle alone. As President George Bush enters his second term, we should commit ourselves to a new common agenda, based on four main building blocks - strategic, foreign policy, economic and institutional cooperation. In the field of global strategy, the most important task will be to bridge the gap between the two different assessments on either side of the Atlantic, starting with an analysis of the threats facing us and how to respond to them. There is a huge difference between the U.S. National Security Strategy of September 2002, which reflects an ideology based on prevention, preemption and preeminence, and the European Union's first strategic document of September 2003, which is based on effective multilateralism and partnership. The problem is how to reach an agreement under which there is less talk of preeminence and unilateralism by the United States, while the European Union shows greater willingness to step up to the table. If we could bridge this gap, the strategic element of the Transatlantic relationship could greatly stimulate the drive to closer European unity. The challenge would come from U.S. expectations that Europe pull its weight in a Transatlantic partnership. This would provide a formidable incentive for Europe to develop its own capabilities, not only in its own interest, but also in order to be a good partner. The strategic element is the overriding element that must set the right tone for the whole relationship.

As for foreign policy, we already have full agenda comprising all the subjects discussed at the G-8, NATO and EU-U.S. summit meetings in June 2004.Major issues include the fight against terrorism at home and abroad, weapons proliferation and the whole problem area that stretches from the Balkans to Afghanistan, including the Mediterranean, Iraq, Iran, the broader Middle East and the Arab-Israeli peace process. There is an immense range of important issues on which we need to work together.

As for Iraq, there is no point spending our time resurrecting the disagreements of the past. It is in everybody's interest today to bring the situation in Iraq under control, using methods that do not fuel the insurgency they are intended to combat. In most cases we will probably find ourselves discussing which problems are best resolved by military action and which by non-military means, and how to deal with the roots of the conflict before it is too late. On the economic side, fewer European business executives are visiting the United States because of the new difficulties in getting into the country. But the total scale of our economic relationship is overwhelming. Recent figures show that 80 percent of all global financial transactions originate in the United States and the European Union. Together we account for 40 percent of world trade and an even bigger share of world GDP.

Most importantly, each of us has become the major economic stakeholder in the other's economy, so there is a very solid basis on which to build. We have agreed on an ambitious objective for further developing our economic relations, with the longer term aim of establishing a barrier-free Transatlantic market. The economic declaration issued by the last EU-U.S. summit meeting did not go quite as far as that, but the direction in which it pointed was very clear. We should identify, as fully as we can, the impediments to all Transatlantic economic activities, not just trade. Let us find out the reasons for those obstacles and how to do away with them. Then we shall see whether we can achieve a major further step, the creation of a regulatory framework that is as compatible as possible between the two sides of the Atlantic, to govern the most integrated area of the globalized economy. This is an extremely important objective. It will require a systematic and resolute effort on both sides, and we should not forget that there are some important differences in our decisionmaking processes that will not make the exercise any easier. But we should give it a chance, because it is the area of activity that will do most to promote the European Union's agenda for economic reform.

Finally, let us examine whether there might be an opportunity to establish a genuine Transatlantic partnership, based on mutual respect, in which Europe would be a counterpart, not a counterweight to the United States. If the European constitutional treaty were to enter into force in the course of 2006, we would have time between now and then to assess the achievements and shortcomings of the Transatlantic Declaration of 1990 and the New Transatlantic agenda of 1995. We could then use the constitutional treaty, which will give the European Union greater authority in international relations, to reformulate the basic mechanism and the substance of the Transatlantic partnership. For now, we are not making enough effort collectively, as a European Union, to engage in the serious, honest consultations necessary to determine where we agree and where we disagree, and we do not have sufficient occasions for doing so. We should review whether we sufficiently interact at the highest level as a Union, whether summit meetings are being properly prepared and whether there is enough regular contact with the White House.We must understand that almost every important venture in the European Union has a Transatlantic mension that will have to be taken into account as we build a closer partnership. That applies to policy areas ranging from aviation and financial services to justice and home affairs, in addition to all the traditional portfolios, such as trade and agriculture, that affect Transatlantic relations. If we can coordinate our activities more systematically, on a day-to-day basis, and reduce bureaucratic infighting and administrative inertia, we can come up with a much more demanding agenda. At the moment, there are more cases in which Europe finds itself reacting to initiatives by the United States than the other way around. I would like to see the United States reacting to more European initiatives, so as to achieve a more balanced relationship.

Günter Burghardt is returning to Brussels at the end of 2004 after five years as the Head of the European Commission Delegation to the United States, a post to which he was appointed in January 2000. He has served in various capacities at the European Commission in Brussels since 1970. His most recent position in Brussels before his Washington posting was Director-General for External Relations.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number V, Issue number III in the Fall of 2004.