European Affairs

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The U.S. and Europe: Time for a Fresh Start

 President George Bush has lost little time letting Europe know that he wants to make a fresh start in Transatlantic relations as he begins his second term in the White House - and he has done so in language that sounds much sweeter to European ears than some of the harsh statements of his first four years. Not only has Mr. Bush pledged to work to deepen Transatlantic ties, and said that America and Europe must "remain close partners, he has also chosen to make the first foreign trip of his new term to Europe.

It is particularly significant that he has decided to start his trip in Brussels, headquarters of NATO and the European Union, which he never visited during his first term, and that he is speaking favorably about the EU and European economic and political integration. This is clearly designed to respond to frequent complaints by Europeans that Mr. Bush has hitherto seemed to be more hostile to European integration than any U.S. President since the process began in the 1950s. Last, but far from least, in a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair just days after his election victory, Mr. Bush pledged new efforts to make progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and mitigating global climate change ø two of the international issues of greatest concern to Europeans.

So has the leopard really changed his spots? Cynics, and there are plenty of them, will argue that a few kind words, however well-intentioned, will not be enough to bridge the chasms that opened between the United States and some of its major European allies over the war in Iraq and other issues of international governance during Mr. Bush's first term. Mr. Bush, many say, will feel emboldened by his re-election victory to pursue the same strategies ø dangerously "unilateralist, in European eyes ø that he adopted in his first term. And it is true that words alone will not be enough to heal the recent rifts in the Alliance, both across the Atlantic and inside Europe.

The fact remains that Mr. Bush has to start somewhere, and establishing a new tone in the Transatlantic dialogue is the best and quickest way to begin. Over the last four years, European officials have often criticized Mr. Bush as much for his style as his policies. And, as U.S. officials are making clear,Mr. Bush's deliberate change of style is meant to open the way to greater cooperation on a wide spectrum of strategic issues ranging from China to the Greater Middle East. The new tone should be welcomed by Europeans as offering at least the possibility of policy changes ø particularly as European governments have also resolved that Mr. Bush's re-election should mark the start of a new effort to restore Transatlantic relations. Most European governments, and much of public opinion, were hoping for Mr. Bush's defeat in the November elections, in the expectation, realistic or otherwise, of making a new start with Senator John Kerry. But European governments, including those of France and Germany, understand that it is not in their own interests to let Transatlantic resentment fester for another four years in the face of daunting world problems that can only be successfully tackled through U.S.-European cooperation.

At the same time, Mr. Bush's offer of better relations reflects the growing realization that America needs greater unity among its allies in its own national interest - a realization that has permeated the Bush administration as post-invasion problems have mounted in Iraq. The most important change is a new appreciation that allies should not be counted simply in terms of how many countries send how many troops to Iraq, but in terms of the overall political and psychological support they can provide. Mr. Bush's advisers now understand the importance of political support from countries such as France and Germany in legitimizing U.S. policies, even if they do not make a military contribution. In both France and Germany, equally, there are many who believe that the two governments went too far in provoking U.S. enmity over Iraq.
If, however, the omens look good for a new start, that does not mean that agreement will come easily on the difficult challenges that lie ahead. So far,Washington and its European allies have managed to avoid serious disagreements over the nuclear threat from Iran and have not allowed Teheran to divide them. But a serious rift could re-emerge in the Alliance if the European Union proceeds with plans to lift its arms embargo on China, imposed in response to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, in the hope of winning economic and political favors from Beijing.

It will be extremely difficult for Europeans and Americans to reach agreement on the Middle East peace process and global climate change, however hard they try, or to solve problems like those presented by North Korea, terrorism and weapons proliferation. The best approach would be to broaden the Transatlantic agenda to include all the issues of most concern to both sides, including for example, the Doha Development Round of trade talks, development aid, international crime and epidemic diseases. It will be far easier to make progress in restoring the alliance if the dialogue is not concentrated on one single divisive issue such as Iraq. That is the kind of approach suggested in this issue of European Affairs, by GŸnter Burghardt, who has spent the last five years as head of the EU Commission Delegation to the United States. It is also time to strengthen the consultation procedures between the United States and the European Union, and particularly to improve the effectiveness of the regular U.S.-EU summits that have often produced disappointing outcomes.

A longer-term and more fundamental question is what kind of European Union the United States will be dealing with in future. In this issue we look at how the Union may be changed by the prospect of Turkish membership, which should oblige it to define its fundamental political and moral values, and by the recent admission of ten new members, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe.We also publish two different blueprints for reforming the EU economy, which is not performing well enough to allow the Union to achieve its objective of becoming the world's most competitive economy by 2010.

These articles reflect a wide range of different ideas as to where the European Union is heading, and whether or not it will continue toward deeper economic and political integration. Two of our contributors are unusually optimistic that Europe will surpass the United States in standards of living and international moral authority, if it has not already done so. Ulrike GuŽrot predicts that the European Union could become the first "postmodern superpower of the 21st century, while Jeremy Rifkin, author of a new book on the subject, argues that a new "European Dream is quietly eclipsing the traditional American variety. Both GuŽrot and Rifkin suggest the new Europe that is emerging may be better equipped than the United States to meet the challenges of the 21st century. That case is far from proved.What is more important for now is that both powers increasingly believe they should tackle those challenges together.


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

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