The transatlantic riddle

Many compare the relationship between Europe and the USA to that of a badly matched couple who are in constant conflict – due to their difference in age, lack of adaptability to the needs and desires of the other, lack of cooperation in matters of crucial significance, but also diametrically opposed approach to their lives – but who still, theoretically at least, continue to invest in the relationship. Just one day before the US elections, transatlantic ties are touch-and-go. No one can predict the extent to which the outcome of the contest will result in a smoothing-out of differences on matters of international significance. In any case, it’s unlikely to be an easy ride. Assessments of the scale of the crisis in transatlantic relations vary. The British writer Timothy Garton Ash, in his most recent book «Why a Crisis of the West Reveals the Opportunity of Our Time,» maintains that the political, economic, social and ideological differences between the EU and the US are much lesser than suggested by those who fear the worst. Ash maintains that it would be a foolish mistake to adopt the view that Europe is culturally superior to the US or that the US represents the only model of democracy, stressing that Europeans and Americans alike derive their political ambitions from the same source, that of the European Enlightenment. However, such wishful thinking is not easily transferable to the harsh circumstances of the real world. An informative meeting with a US delegation in Brussels last week gave me the opportunity to listen to positive and negative opinions about transatlantic relations from the horse’s mouth. The US officials who sat down to talk with a small team of European journalists started off by trying to paint a rosy picture of transatlantic ties. «We won the Cold War, Europe is prospering, the free market economy has spread to the countries of the former Soviet bloc and we have developed stability mechanisms. So, our relationship is not as bad as some people make out,» officials maintained, giving us the impression that the romance has just begun. But after a while, one by one, the enduring problems started to surface – problems that will become veritable political footballs following the elections. Iraq, and European reactions to it, terrorism, the Middle East deadlock, the growing power of China, Iran’s nuclear weapons, Russia and the countries in its soft underbelly – these are just some of the problem areas in transatlantic relations where the potential for agreement is unclear. The day after the US election will find Europe focused on making a success of enlargement and exhibiting a growth of anti-Americanism as it powerlessly observes the limitation of the powers of the Franco-German axis; it will find it worrying about an economic slump and possibly contemplating the first European Parliament revolt. Meanwhile, the USA will be trying out the different tendencies of a foreign policy that started with President Jefferson… Given the above, and in view of the fact that the crisis in Iraq has changed America’s priorities, while also offering Europe a chance to achieve emancipation, the West now needs to surpass itself. It must accept that its great aspirations can only be achieved as part of a transatlantic relationship.