European Affairs

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Beyond the Laughter

Jacqueline GrapinThe sight of Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac sharing a laugh in front of the cameras in Brussels in February was a long awaited pleasure for the Transatlantic community. It was a moment to savor, regardless of the fact that it was prompted by a question from a journalist asking whether relations between France and the United States had improved enough to warrant an invitation to the French leader to visit the famous presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas. Mr. Bush provoked universal mirth by responding, “I’m looking for a good cowboy.”

The graceful acknowledgment of differences is an improvement in the Transatlantic relationship that is appreciated on both sides of the ocean. Style helps with substance. One important result of Mr. Bush’s first foreign trip after his reelection was his recognition of the European Union’s growing importance in foreign policy. Following a period when the European Union had been more or less discounted as a partner in Transatlantic activities, Mr. Bush’s new approach was remarkable for both its realism and its idealism.

The European Union has an extraordinary capacity to chastise those with whom it disagrees. Even in America, no political leader benefits, nationally or internationally, from negative public opinion ratings across the entire European continent. However the European Union also needs to demonstrate that it can make the kind of positive contributions envisaged by Jeremy Rifkin in his book, The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream (Tarcher/Penguin, 2004).Mr. Rifkin summarized the main elements of his thesis in the fall issue of European Affairs.

The European Union is beginning to accomplish its goals of integration and enlargement. But as several articles in this issue of European Affairs show, some of the difficulties it faces stem from the fact that much is expected of a Union that has not yet reached political and institutional maturity. Dana Spinant wonders what will happen if one or more of its member countries say “No” to the new constitutional treaty, while Reginald Dale suggests that Britain may once again be facing a crisis over its role in Europe. Siim Kallas says that the Commission wants more transparency in Brussels and Ann Mettler argues that Europe needs to work out a new social model for the 21st century. There are so many questions still to be answered. And yet the Union is meant to provide for everything, from peace and prosperity in a wider Europe and beyond to the dismantling of global trade barriers. At the same time, it must contribute to international development and Transatlantic homeland security.

Step by step, progress is being made: the pay gap between Europe’s East and West is narrowing, Robin Chater tells us. The euro area is on the way to including the new EU member countries. The European Union, including its member States, is the top contributor of public humanitarian aid in the world, and European Commissioner Louis Michel is calling for a New Transatlantic Development Agenda. And so on… To do even better, the European Union needs a good degree of American cooperation, just as the United States needs to work with Europe to promote international trade and security.

To strengthen this cooperation, and make it more effective, Europeans and Americans should soon address the institutional framework of their dialogue. While NATO remains the anchor of the Transatlantic Alliance, a “ménage à trois” among the United States, the European Union and NATO will prove a delicate endeavor. There is currently no grand project to review this situation, and most experienced practitioners of Transatlantic relations suggest the best that can be achieved for the moment is to try to manage the existing institutions better. A serious study of the reasons why the Transatlantic dialogue went adrift in 2003 and 2004 might help. It would be worthwhile to review the procedures that should have been followed, as well as those to be avoided in future. In the medium term, a good project for think tanks that want to be constructive would be to craft a more ambitious vision of the kind of common institutions needed to improve Transatlantic collaboration.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 6, Issue number 1-2 in the Winter/Spring of 2005.

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UMD Jean Monnet Research Project

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The Bertelsmann Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC with a transatlantic perspective on global challenges.

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