European Affairs

The debate over the sometimes-rocky Transatlantic relationship truly needs a contribution such as this. We have a new Republican administration in the White House, with a president who is committed to strong Transatlantic ties. The Bush administration, however, also includes people who share the British Euro-skeptics' view of European integration.

In Europe, a latent anti-Americanism erupts from time to time, no longer constrained by the threat of a common Soviet enemy.

So, there is ample room for misunderstanding and rivalry. As Financial Times news editor Lionel Barber writes, "From the U.S. standpoint, the process of EU enlargement to the reform democracies of central and eastern Europe is moving far too slowly compared to the expansion of the NATO alliance... The United States is also alarmed by the tendency to cold-shoulder Turkey, a strategically vital NATO ally.

"Americans are frustrated by the 'business-comes-first' attitudes that Europe displays on occasion toward countries that the United States has branded rogue states, such as Cuba and Libya. From the European vantage point, U.S. triumphalism could threaten successful Transatlantic cooperation that has endured for half a century and more." To these minefields should be added the explosive issues of American national missile defense and the European Security and Defense Initiative.

Though American administrations have supported European integration since 1951, the year of the birth of the European Coal and Steel Community, there has always also been a sneaking suspicion on this side of the Atlantic that the idea was to create a rival - or at least a counterweight - to the United States on the world scene. French politicians, in particular, have done nothing to discourage such concerns.

It is, therefore, important to have European integration explained to an American audience, as a process with its own internal logic and momentum, its roots in thousands of years of warfare, and its tensions between national sovereignty and unifying forces. In this, the past is prelude.

As described by Reginald Dale, columnist for the International Herald Tribune and editor-in-chief of this magazine, the drive toward European unification goes back far before World War II, mostly by way of armed con§ict, of course. (Napoleon, in his time, was as great a "unifier" as Hitler was in his.)

From the Roman Empire to Charlemagne to the EU today - and presumably tomorrow as well - certain common features are recognizable. A fundamental one is the division between the Catholic core of Europe and its Protestant edges - including Britain and the Scandinavian countries.

Here we have the seeds of the multi-speed Europe that has allowed some countries to move ahead while others stay behind in terms of open borders and acceptance of the euro - which, as Mr. Dale notes, was actually preceded around 800 A.D. by the single currency of Charlemagne's empire. Even back then, neither England nor Denmark wanted any part of it.

The difficulty of creating a union out of old, established, and proud nation states is clearly of a different order of magnitude than to do so out of 13 colonies, with similar backgrounds and the same language, on a newly discovered continent. This is why a number of the essayists here express skepticism that we will see the rise of the United States of Europe.

"If the nation state in Europe is dying on the verge of the 21st century," writes Leif Beck Fallesen, editor of the Danish newspaper Boersen, "someone forgot to tell the Europeans." In a particularly lucid description of the path to unity, French journalist Solange Villes points out that the EU has "no military power, no president or government as such. It has a very limited budget, which barely exceeds one percent of the joint gross domestic product of its 15 member states."

At the same time, the EU does have founding treaties that make up its "constitution," it can boast of a single market of 370 million wealthy citizens, and it has legally binding supranational institutions. And, of course, it now has a currency to which 12 of its members have subscribed.

In rather short order, it will also have the huge problem of absorbing as many as 12 new members, mostly from the former East bloc, as Martin Walker, columnist for United Press International, writes. There will be 110 million people in a "poverty belt" to the East that will increase the EU's population by 17 percent, but its economic output by only three percent - thus creating a whole new set of institutional and economic challenges.

What then, does the EU add up to? A powerful economic force, to be sure, sometimes also a political one when national leaders manage to be on the same page on foreign policy. However, it will hardly be a "superpower" in the conventional military sense that should concern Americans.

Chris Patten, European Commissioner for external affairs, writing on "The European Union and the World," suggests that the power of Europe is of a different kind. "The EU is not a superpower in the traditional sense, and does not cherish the ambition to become one. Yet, its unique experiment in the deep integration of independent countries has made it one of the most in§uential players on the world stage."

How to manage that growing status - while preserving the Transatlantic relationship with the United States - is the challenge for Europe in the 21st century.


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