European Union, properly construed.
Broader transatlantic tensions also need to be seen in the light of power struggles within Europe as the European Union enlarges from 15 to 25 members and tries to write itself a first-ever European constitution. These epoch-making events are unsettling traditional power relationships inside Europe and leading to new alignments and alliances of European states. The dominant Franco-German axis is facing its most serious challenge yet as the European Union expands for the first time across the former Iron Curtain, taking in a host of countries that want to maintain stronger links with the United States than do some existing EU members.
Strains in the Atlantic alliance are compounded by an unusually high degree of mutual incomprehension, for which the media on both sides of the ocean must bear a share of the blame. Few Europeans understand the political forces shaping America since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, or the reasoning behind specific policies advanced by the Bush administration. For their part, Bush administration officials do little to hide their distaste for many aspects of European integration, of which most Europeans are rightfully proud, and generally fail to understand its dynamics. Above all, today's American leaders too often fall into the fallacy of thinking that efforts to construct a new Europe are all about America when they are really about Europe.
For reasons of enduring common interest, tensions across the Atlantic are unlikely to become so serious as to threaten an irretrievable breakdown. And there is even the possibility of a substantial improvement in relations, provided each side makes a stronger effort to understand the other's positions--and focuses on the strengths of those positions rather than their weaknesses. For Americans, the key test is whether they are willing to come to terms with European integration in general and the European Union in particular.
European Integration, then and now
DESPITE THE SIMILARITIES between today's arguments over the details of a proposed new European constitution and the passionate debates between Federalists and anti-Federalists in late eighteenth-century America, few Americans are paying much attention to the details of this momentous step in European integration and Europe's emergence as a weightier international presence. Indeed, even sophisticated and relatively well-informed American opinion has shown little interest in the workings of the European Union, nor has it seen why European integration should be taken seriously other than insofar as it may help or hinder exports of American goods and investment.
Many European opinion leaders rightly regard the European Union's forthcoming enlargement to include io new members (eight countries in Central and Eastern Europe, plus Cyprus and Malta) as a truly historic development, signifying the unification of the continent by peaceful means for the first time in history. Washington, on the other hand, is rife with its particular version of euroskepticism. The Bush administration is probably the least supportive of European integration of any administration since the process began in the 1950s--or at least it takes less care to hide its hopes that some aspects of European political integration will fail.
A key reason for this growing hostility is the European Union's increasingly active bid to become not just an international economic power, as it already is, but also an international political power. In the process, some Americans believe--and many in continental Europe hope--that the EU will challenge the United States more strongly for world leadership. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's most loyal ally in Europe, has said that the European Union must become "a superpower" (although "not a superstate").
But while opinion polls show that most Europeans want to see a stronger Europe, its shape is still contested and unclear--with intellectual opinion weighted" to, the United States. Those divisions are complicating the European Union's efforts to exert greater influence in the world. But, despite some American hopes, particularly among conservatives, the move to create a more integrated Europe is anything but on the verge of collapse.
In the early days of European integration, Brussels officials used to compare its progress to an annual ceremonial procession in Echternach, a small town in Luxembourg, in which dancers traditionally advanced by taking three steps forward and two steps back--the so-called Dance of Echternach. That is still the way Europe advances, even though many Americans and Britons are quicker to see the two steps back than the three steps forward.
"The Anglo-Saxons," as the French like to call the Americans and the British, are less visionary by nature and less inclined to see the world in conceptual terms than their continental cousins. Over the past half-century, Britons and Americans have repeatedly underestimated continental commitment to the European ideal and the determination of continental policymakers to press ahead with moves toward the "ever closer union" called for in the founding Treaty of Rome in 1957.
Many "Anglo-Saxons" were surprised, for instance, when the European Union successfully introduced its common currency, the euro, in 1999. Many are again underestimating European determination to endow the enlarged European Union with more integrated foreign and security policies--although Britons are beginning to understand the integrationist implications of the draft EU constitution that is currently under negotiation.
European advocates of further integration are often irritated by America's failure to appreciate the extraordinary scope of European construction now underway. Instead, Americans tend to criticize Europeans for focusing on their own problems in an unhealthily "inward-looking" manner, and Bush administration officials, to the irritation of EU officials, often express a preference for dealing with national capitals rather than the EU'S quasi-federal institutions. One senior German official, for instance, is outraged to hear Americans talk of the European Union as a "pool" from which U.S. allies can be selected rather than as a cohesive political entity in its own right.
Underlying American reluctance to take the European Union too seriously is the widespread view that "Europe" is largely a spent historical force. Europeans, on the other hand, generally think that they are on the ascent in world affairs. They see the European Union asa grand project that will restore Europe to its rightful place as a continental-scale economic and political grouping more or less on a par with the United States, though perhaps not in every dimension of power.
Of course, there are also serious specific policy differences between Americans and Europeans, and not just over Iraq. The United States frequently annoys EU leaders by loudly nagging them to admit Turkey as a member as soon as possible--for reasons that have much to do with U.S. global strategic interests and very little to do with the aims of European integration as envisaged by most Europeans.
Transatlantic trade disputes have become more bitter as they have increasingly come to reflect social and cultural differences, such as over genetically modified food and crops and the merits and risks of hormone-fed beef. The United States is widely, if mistakenly, seen as a bully for trying to force such products down Europeans' throats--when all it wants is the removal of illegal trade barriers.
At the same time, the policies and personality of President George W. Bush have engendered hostility, even scorn, in Europe in a way unmatched by any recent president, including Ronald Reagan, of whom many Europeans remained contemptuous even after his landslide reelection and Cold War victory. These attitudes are now widespread throughout Western Europe, even in countries such as Britain and Spain, whose governments are among Bush's most stalwart supporters.
Europeans in general, and even European diplomats who should know better, seem often to be more upset by President Bush's direct Texas style than by his specific policies. As with President Reagan, there is undoubtedly an element of condescension--intellectual and social snobbery--in the European attitude.
In a strange way, European hostility to Bush is also partly due to the increasing closeness of the two sides of the Atlantic. In many respects, as Daniel Hamilton has argued in the journal European Affairs ("The TwentyFirst Century Requires a Global U.S.-European Partnership," Spring 2003), the Atlantic is shrinking and European and American societies are not drifting apart but colliding. The Atlantic, already the world's most economically globalized region, is also becoming more and more of a common social and political space as a result of vastly increased trade, travel, investment, communications, and cultural exchanges. More Europeans than ever before speak English, including in France.
As they anxiously watch world events unfold, Europeans increasingly feel that they have a stake in the U.S. presidency and that it ought to be accountable to them as well as to American voters. Europeans recognize, consciously or unconsciously, that in a lone-superpower world they do not fully control their own destiny. They believe that the government that does, in this case the administration of President Bush, should be more reflective of their views. But while the Bush administration likes to have allies in Europe if possible, it does not, of course, feel politically accountable to any but American voters.
Resentful at feeling spurned, many Europeans are constantly on the lookout for reasons to take offense at U.S. "unilateralism," in which European interests are allegedly overridden or ignored. They angrily cite examples such as U.S. opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the land mine treaty, and the International Criminal Court, even if they have themselves provoked the United States into "unilateral" action by failing to negotiate the concessions necessary for American acceptance of multilateral solutions. On many of these issues, unlike over Iraq, Europeans are surprisingly united, even if the unity is often based on widespread public ignorance of the facts of the case.
This is precisely the area, that of international governance, in which Europeans will increasingly be at odds with the United States as they continue to flex their muscles in world affairs. The Europeans see a proliferation of such agreements as increasing their international influence. Americans are more likely to see the exercise as constraining the power of the United States to act in its own interests.
European support for greater world governance is in line with a main aim of the constitutional negotiations, which is to strengthen Europe's world role by streamlining the European Union's institutional structure. The idea is to endow the European Union with a single foreign minister and a stronger president better able to represent the EU viewpoint in relations with the rest of the world. But, under the "Dance of Echternach" principle, the negotiations will certainly not result in a final or even a particularly satisfactory arrangement for ensuring coherent leadership in an increasingly diverse group of 25 large and small member states.
Many European integrationists believe that if momentum is not to drain away in a 25-nation union, the only way forward is for a smaller number, or "hard core," of states to take the lead in furher unification without waiting for the others. That is the thinking behind attempts by Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg, the four countries most strongly opposed to the United States over Iraq, to launch new forms of closer European security cooperation outside NATO that are not to Washington's liking.
Other core groups can be seen at work in the recent mission of the British, French, and German foreign ministers to Tehran to try to persuade Dan to comply with nuclear nonproliferation requirements, and in gatherings of the interior ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain to pioneer new visa, immigration, and airline security measures on behalf of the EU as a whole.
So concerned are the smaller countries that the larger states will try to run the EU through an exclusive big-country "directoire" that they have started their own counter-organization. At the initiative of Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Portugal, ministers of the 19 smaller states of the enlarged European Union have been meeting to consolidate their position in the constitutional negotiations, where they feel that their rights are being overridden by their larger brethren. Small-country diplomats say the group of 19 will be disbanded once it has achieved its constitutional objectives, but its members could well see a need to reconvene in the future.
France's European Ambitions
AT THE CENTER of all these upheavals, both across the Atlantic and inside the new Europe, is France--the only modern power part from the United States that believes it possesses universal values that should be exported to the rest of the world, in an updated version of the classic French colonialist "mission civilisatrice."
France's highly public clashes with the Bush administration in the first half of 2003 took place in and around the U.N. Security Council--of key importance for French world ambitions because France is one of the five permanent members with the right of veto--and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which France has long seen as a vehicle for U.S. dominance. None of these clashes, however, are as fundamental for France as the current maneuverings inside the European Union, which threaten to diminish French influence in Europe and thus undermine French pretensions to global leadership.
If France loses its influence in Europe, it will be hard put to mount a credible alternative to U.S. hegemony in what French leaders like to hail as a future multipolar world. The second pole of such a world, in this view, would not be France alone--the French know that they cannot aspire to world leadership by themselves--but a French-led Europe, allied perhaps with other like-minded countries such as Russia. President Jacques Chirac has sometimes referred to China as another "pole." In calling for a multipolar world, however, the French are not calling for more power for China, or for India or for Latin America, but for a Europe tailored to French interests and speaking, albeit sometimes in English, with a French voice.
Yet the crucial current developments in Europe--EU enlargement and constitution-building--are potentially more dangerous to French interests than any event since the beginnings of European integration after World War n. At risk is the carefully constructed system under which France has controlled the European Union and its predecessor, the European Community, for half a century. That is the main reason why Paris has been trying so actively to reinvent the Franco-German axis and has been brandishing the axis so blatantly in its clashes with the United States and European countries with which it disagrees.
Paris was easily able to exert a dominant influence in the six-nation community it founded in the 1950s together with Germany, Italy, and the three Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). The Germans, still in desperate need of moral and political rehabilitation, were intent only on rebuilding their economy and keeping their heads below the international parapet. Italy, then as now, has never exerted the political influence its population and economic weight should earn it. The small Benelux countries were dedicated to a highly integrated Europe that would protect them from any further fighting between their two overbearing neighbors.
The Germans willingly accepted an arrangement under which the fledgling European Union was powered by growing German economic strength and steered by French political leadership. When the supranationalist ideals favored by the other countries threatened French interests in the 1960s, French President Charles de Gaulle responded with a boycott of the EH institutions until the right to a national veto over EU decisions was recognized. Britain was kept waiting outside the walls, condemned as an American Trojan Horse--the same charge now disdainfully leveled by French officials against the new Atlanticist entrants from Central and Eastern Europe.
As the European Community gradually expanded to include Britain, Ireland, and Denmark, then Greece, then Spain and Portugal, and most recently Austria, Sweden, and Finland, it became increasingly hard to maintain French leadership. But until recent years, France largely succeeded in doing so through the Franco-German partnership, in which Germany more of less willingly submitted to French political domination. If the Germans deviated too far from French desires, Paris let it be known that they were "bad Europeans"--upon which the Germans would profusely apologize and hurry back onto the reservation.
An essential element of French mastery has been the role that Paris has assigned itself as the arbiter of European values and of whether other countries are truly "European." The French mystique has frequently been maintained by bluff. How long, a German diplomat once asked, are you French planning to carry on flying first class on a third class ticket?
Nevertheless, France has sought, often successfully, to establish the principle that other countries are European only to the extent that they pursue French interests, buy French goods, admire French culture, and, preferably, speak French. Thus, French officials still stigmatize Britain as not being "fully European" because of its suspicion of policies that France endorses, such as the euro and the Common Agricultural Policy, and because of its attachments to the rest of the English-speaking world.
This self-appointed, overweening role is essential to France's main diplomatic aim of the past half-century--to use the European Union as a force multiplier of French influence, both in Europe and beyond. In the process, the concepts of what is France and what is Europe can become intermingled in ways that are confusing for pragmatic Anglo-Saxons but less so for more conceptual French thinkers. "Europe," President Chirac once said, "is not a continent but an idea." He did not need to add "a French idea."
Thus, as prime minister in the late 1980s, Chirac used to sing the praises of the coming European single market as a means of asserting European influence in a world with rapidly growing populations that threatened to dwarf the small nations cramped together on the Old Continent. (Talk of the "Old Continent" of "Old France" was regarded as perfectly acceptable, even affectionate, before U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's casually derisory reference to France and Germany as "Old Europe.")
In almost the same breath, however, Chirac would go on to laud the EU single market as a vehicle for the spread of French influence. The single market, he liked to say, would help French goods and culture radiate out through the test of Europe via France's sparkling modern auto routes and high-speed railroad lines, which he compared as cultural vectors to the great medieval fair routes.
Of course, it did not turn out quite like that. In practice, American culture has radiated out more powerfully than French, even in Europe, and the antimarket philosophies of the French welfare state (embraced by Gaullists and many French conservatives as well as by the left) have to bear their share of responsibility--along with those of Germany--for the feeble economic performance of the euro zone today.
It is remarkable nonetheless how France has hitherto managed to reconcile the apparently conflicting objectives of furthering European supranational integration as a tool of French policy while maintaining independent French national sovereignty--a balancing act required not only by the tenets of Gaullism but by the instincts and beliefs of most of the country's citizens.
The act has sometimes involved the application of intricate Cartesian logic. By surrendering the franc and joining the euro, it was argued, France would not lose but increase sovereignty over its own affairs: Under the old national currency system, French monetary policy was de facto dictated by the omnipotent German Bundesbank. With a European Central Bank in which all euro-zone countries were represented, France would regain sovereignty by acquiring an influential seat at the table. Such calculations lay behind France's vigorous and ultimately successful effort to place a Frenchman, Jean-Claude Trichet, at the head of the ECB.
Such supremely self-confident bureaucrats as Trichet have been key soldiers in France's European strategy. The elite French civil service has helped France mold the Brussels bureaucracy to French patterns. But the effectiveness of these tactics has been weakening as the EU has enlarged, and the influence of Northern Europeans, with their insistence on transparency over private personal relationships, has been increasingly felt in the EU institutions. The former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, who tan into legal trouble for cronyist practices while a commissioner in Brussels in the 1990s, would undoubtedly have got away with her behavior in the smaller, sixnation community more tightly run by France.
But the most important restraint on France's European influence has been the increasing reluctance of a less guilt-ridden Germany to submit to the old "bad European" blackmail. Germany has become more ready to claim its own political position in the world. Berlin has demanded a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and progressively shown more readiness to dispatch German forces abroad for a variety of peacekeeping missions. Since the end of the Cold War and the country's unification, Germany has also emphasized its new political and commercial interests to its east and has begun to flex its muscles more purposefully inside the European Union. In hard-fought, ill-tempered negotiations for the EU Treaty of Nice, signed in 2001, Germany for the first time demanded a bigger representation than France in EU institutions, on the grounds of its larger population following reunification, at the risk of seriously angering the French (which it did). Germany's overall strategic priority in Europe has been to surround itself with peaceful allies on all sides--an objective that found fulfillment in both NATO and EU enlargement.
Therein, however, lies a serious threat to France. Despite some sentimental French ties to Poland and Romania, none of the new members really belongs in the French cultural of political orbit. Central and Eastern Europeans prefer to learn German or English as a foreign language. They lie in a traditional German sphere of influence, even if it is one where Germans have to tread warily for obvious historical reasons. The transfer of the German capital from innocuous Bonn, a short drive from France, to haughty Berlin, a bare 50 miles from the Polish bor-der, is the biggest physical manifestation of this new reality.
For all these reasons, France had already started seeking to revive the flagging Franco-German axis toward the end of 2002, after Chancellor Gerhard Schroder turned against the United States in his reelection campaign--well before the big clash with the United States over Iraq. The immediate context was January's fortieth anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, which established the special Franco-German relationship under de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer in 1963. But growing anti-Americanism in Germany helped the French cause. As the clash deepened over Iraq, Germany shocked diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic by clearly aligning itself with France against the United States for the first time since World War II.
There are signs that Schroder at least partially regrets this massive and unprecedented deviation from traditional German policy. He has since declared that it was disgraceful that anyone should try to force Germany to choose between the United States and France, conveniently forgetting that it was he who voluntarily chose Paris over Washington, thus giving France valuable political cover for its anti-U.S, posture. It seems most unlikely that, after this assertion of German independence from Washington's leadership, any future German leader will be able to, or would want to, return to the cozy U.S.-German intimacy of the past half-century. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is said to have privately described Germany's rebellion against the United States over lraq as "our own Boston tea party."
France's slipping grasp on the EU tiller accounts for Chirac's rage at the uppity behavior of the soon-to-be members in Central and Eastern Europe who signed loyalty pledges to the United States just before the war in Iraq at a time when France and Germany were actively trying to sabotage U.S. policy. One of France's worst nightmares is a huge influx of Atlanticist nations into the European Union that Paris cannot control. French diplomats bitterly criticized the governments that signed the pro-American statements for failing to consult beforehand through the EU presidency (a step that France has never taken prior to concocting joint EU initiatives with Germany of trying to form a diplomatic troika with Germany and Russia).
American celebrations of the outspoken strain of Atlanticism now flourishing in Central and Eastern Europe may, however, prove to be excessively exuberant. There can be little doubt that the new members will come under pressure to align more closely with "European" positions as they are drawn deeper into the European Union and its attempts to create common foreign and security policies.
And that is the way many Central and Eastern Europeans apparently want it. According to a recent Eurobarometer opinion poll published by the European Commission, 74 percent of those in the countries due to join the European Union next May are in favor of a common EU foreign and security policy, and 84 percent want a common European defense policy. Seventy percent support the idea of a single European foreign minister, and 72 percent want to join the euro.
Nevertheless, there is more than enough Atlanticism in Central and Eastern Europe for it to be regarded as a betrayal by all those French thinkers since the days of de Gaulle who have believed, and still believe, that Europe should be constructed in opposition to the United States. Explaining his veto of British entry into the European Community in the 1960s, de Gaulle said he wanted to see England "completely naked," stripped of all links to the United States, the Commonwealth, and the English-speaking world.
Today that line of thinking has evolved into the argument that the European Union should be a "counterweight" to the United States, implying by definition the need for a relative reduction in U.S. power and an increase in the influence of Europe. That is not at all the same thing as Europe acting as a partner, adding weight to the U.S. side of the scale on world issues, as Britain and most other EU countries would prefer.
The French demand for a European "counterweight" poses especially difficult problems for Britain. Tony Blair has made clear he believes in a world with a single pole, the American-led West, and will not back French efforts to create a rival power center--although Blair himself has long harbored an ambition to be a serious "European" politician.
A student of the history of the last half of the twentieth century would probably speculate that Britain will be drawn gradually and inexorably closer into the EU'S embrace--never leading but always following a few years behind the pioneers. That leaves Britain desperately trying to keep one foot on either side of the Atlantic while still lacking a clearly defined or comfortable role in Europe despite 50 years of experimentation with new kinds of relationships with the Continent. It may be that no such comfortable role is available in the current historical context.
Britain will not be able to participate fully in any "hard core" group that defines Europe's future, simply because of its continuing absence from the euro zone, on which closer economic integration will have to be based. Britain may have greater influence in defense and foreign policy, but London is unlikely for the foreseeable future to see eye-to-eye with the kind of highly centralized Europe envisaged by Paris and Berlin--which is not one most British people want anyway. Blair is showing new readiness to support closer EU defense cooperation, favored by France and Germany, largely in order to try to widen the Franco-German axis to include Britain. But his attachment to the United States and NATO will not allow him to join in any truly independent European defense initiatives.
How much is France's bid to dominate Europe through European integration tinged with anti-Americanism really a product of a French grand design, as Anglo-Saxons often suppose? There is good reason for such a belief. Leaving aside Napoleon's attempt to unify the continent by fire and sword, nearly all the institutional blueprints for European unification have come from France--ever since the Duc de Sully, a former minister of Henri IV, proposed a plan for a united Europe in the seventeenth century. In the mid-nineteenth century, French economists suggested something quite similar to today's economic and monetary union, and the current European Union is largely the brainchild of the postwar French visionaries Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet. In part, President Chirac's policies are simply the manifestation of a very long-term French objective.
But politicians' motives are rarely so simple. There is also a strong shorter-term, ad hoc element in Chirac's recent positioning vis-a-vis the United States. If he has been taking advantage of the current wave of anti-Americanism in Europe to further his plans for a "counterweight" to the United States, he has also been doing so to win favor with public opinion. The clash over Iraq also presented him with a heaven-sent opportunity to present himself to the world as an international statesman, a reputation he has long sought but not really enjoyed hitherto.
But this means Chirac is not invulnerable to pressure. He will change if public opinion changes; he will not want to be too isolated in Europe, and he will retreat if he sees that his policies are leading to a reduction rather than an increase in French influence. As well as paying the traditional French lip service to principles, Chirac likes to pride himself on being "pragmatic," by which he means deciding what to do on the merits of each individual case. If his anti-U.S, posture is to be modified, the key will lie in enticing Germany back into something closer to its traditional Atlanticist stance.
BUT FIRST OF all, an effort to prevent the emergence of a European "counterweight" to the United States will require Washington to pay more attention to Europe--and deploy greater subtlety than the current administration has been inclined to do so far. It is not a good idea to "punish" France for its stance on Iraq, which only increases sympathy for Paris in Berlin. If the Bush plan is to divide and rule Europe, as many Europeans think, Washington should make sure not to draw a line that puts both France and Germany on the other side.
In making their charges of American divide-and-rule tactics, Europeans usually conveniently forget that it is they who have divided themselves in the first place. But it is still not a good idea for Washington to fuel the anti-American character of the Franco-German rapprochement by insultingly pairing the two countries together, as Rumsfeld did with his "Old Europe" jibe.
Little of all this, however, is usually factored into U.S. policy toward Europe, not least because Americans remain widely, sometimes devastatingly ignorant of the nature of European integration, its achievements, and the destination to which, at least in the eyes of many leading Europeans, it is meant to be heading. Such ignorance, insofar as it foments euroskepticism and hostility to European integration in Washington and irritation in Europe, is a major contributor to today's tensions.
One does not have to look far for examples. When EU leaders officially endorsed the admission of new members at a summit meeting in Copenhagen in December 2002, in what was widely seen in Europe as a truly historic moment, the Washington Post reported that they had decided to extend their "free trade area" into Central and Eastern Europe.
The report was both wrong and dangerously misleading. The Central and Eastern European countries have in fact had free trade agreements with the European Union since the early 1990s. Much more important, however the European Union is not, and has never wanted to be, a free trade area. In economic terms, it became first a customs union, then a common market, then a single market, and it is now an economic and monetary union with a single currency. All of these are far more integrated relationships than a simple free trade area, and as the EU has progressed from one to the next, it has developed central, quasi-federal decision-making institutions that would be totally out of place in a free trade area.
But the European Union, with its fledgling common foreign and defense policies and its attempts to draft a European constitution, has also gone far beyond economics. If the EU as yet has no full-fledged army, it has a parliament, a capital, a flag, and an anthem. People who believe these characteristics are appropriate to a free trade area should try endowing the North American Free Trade Agreement with a flag and an anthem and rotating its presidency among Washington, Ottawa, and Mexico City.
Far from being a free trade area, the European Union is finally struggling to become an international political power--which is precisely one of the reasons American support for European integration has been fading. Another is that the conservatives who are so influential in the Bush administration have always harbored deep suspicions of European integration, which they have tended to identify with the triumph of bureaucratic socialism or worse on the continental mainland. Even if President Bush were not in the White House, however, the EU's political ambitions and the end of the Cold War would be causing a grinding together of tectonic plates in the mid-Atlantic.
During the Cold War, the United States looked to NATO to provide the military and political muscle to restrain Soviet expansionism and to what was to become the European Union to provide the economic bulwark. The job of the then European Community was to provide prosperity in Western Europe and a social safety net that would strengthen West European societies against communism, just as Japan did in Asia. In exchange for playing that role, Europeans could be forgiven many sins, especially in the trade field but also in developing the kind of welfare states that most Americans find excessive.
Internationally, Europe's role was seen as being that of an economic power. In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger liked to characterize the European Community as a regional economic power, compared to a United States that was a global political and military power. This complementary but essentially inferior role has been assigned to the European Union by successive U.S. administrations ever since.
Of course, U.S. administrations, above all that of President John F. Kennedy, officially supported European political integration. There were ritual laments about the Europeans' failure to develop common approaches, including in foreign and security policy. But more acute U.S. diplomats saw that an EU common foreign policy, if one ever emerged, might not be exactly to Washington's taste, particularly on issues like the Middle East--a point perfectly exemplified by the recent anti-American antics of France and Germany over Iraq.
Rather, as one perceptive official put it privately, U.S. interests were best served by a Europe always proceeding toward closer union but never actually getting there--a Sisyphean Europe forever rolling the boulder of integration uphill. In such circumstances, it was possible for the United States to support European unification and treat Europeas a desirable future partner on the world scene without ever having to find out whether unification would really be a good idea in practice. What is different today is that the EU is giving the first, admittedly mixed, signals of how it actually sees such a partnership.
There was another advantage to looking at European integration as primarily economic. It meant that the Washington establishment and the media could basically ignore it as beneath their dignity. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. foreign policy establishment saw the world through a politico-military lens. The currencies of high-level diplomatic exchange were cruise and Pershing II missiles and negotiations on mutual and balanced force reductions. Talks on bananas, corn gluten, and other more tiresome aspects of European integration could safely be left to trade experts and their "low" diplomacy as against the "high" diplomacy of the politico-military grandees. Of course, if the achievements of European integration are looked at solely through a politico-military lens, they do not amount to very much.
For the media, the economic nature of the European project provided similar benefits. They could ignore it as "boring." They did not have to send full-time correspondents to Brussels to explain the complex workings of the Common Agricultural Policy--only special correspondents to NATO meetings and the more glamorous EU summit meetings (with such results as the Washington Post's embarrassing mischaracterization quoted above). As in the diplomatic service, this approach reflected an established journalistic caste system. Those at the top of the totem pole cover the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, and a few major foreign capitals such as Paris, London, or Moscow. Although the picture is changing somewhat, journalists covering business and economics have traditionally been far lower down the pecking order.
The consequences of this are clearly seen at summit meetings of the Group of Eight leading countries, which are covered by foreign and White House correspondents because the president attends, but which are meant to be primarily economic. The leaders have learned to toss out juicy political or military morsels in advance of the requisite deadlines so that the media stars do not have to soil their hands trying to cover economic issues they do not understand. A side effect is that these U.S. media attitudes promote ignorance even of the economic side of the EU, thus ensuring that most Americans will be surprised by developments like the single currency.
American euroskepticism is further fostered by a widespread reliance for information on the English-language media, including a British press often hostile to "Europe," rather than on more friendly and often more intelligent reports from the continent. American conservatives who read British conservative anti-European newspapers and journals find their own assessments reinforced without having to examine the reality of what is actually happening.
That makes it all the more important to see the European Union in its proper historical context. And the first point to understand is that, by its own standards, it has been an astonishing success. Since its birth in the 1950s, the European Union has, albeit often late and messily, achieved every significant target it has set itself, including a common commercial policy and economic and monetary union. Despite the latest dramatic setbacks over Iraq, it will continue to try to formulate common foreign and security policies, and it will doubtless make incremental though erratic progress toward doing so. If there are rifts on the more spectacular issues like relations with the United States, there is already wide agreement on a host of more mundane foreign and diplomatic issues--as well as on some important ones like support for the Palestinians.
The second point is that the European Union has its greatest influence in world affairs in the areas where it has the most integrated policies. In world trade negotiations, conducted by the European Commission under the common commercial policy, the European Union carries equal weight with the United States. The euro has quickly become the world's second most important currency after the dollar.
If the EU were to adopt common foreign and defense policies, it would gain much greater influence in those areas, too. That is why a certain amount of wishful thinking may have contributed to conflicting interpretations of the longer-term consequences of the clash with the United States over Iraq. Many Americans believe the episode confirms that the EU will never be able to agree on a common foreign and defense policy. Many Europeans believe the opposite: that the shock will provide the nervous energy required to forge closer political ties.
The biggest question is whether the European Union will succeed in its bid to become a new kind of international civil-political power, exercising influence through multilateral diplomacy and international institutions. It is not the aim of the European Union to rival the United States as a military power, nor is it capable of doing so financially, technologically, or politically. The strength of the European Union is the success it has achieved in overcoming conflict and national rivalries in its own area of Western Europe, now broadened to Central and Eastern Europe, through patient negotiation and compromise. The endemic and almost permanent warfare that has scarred and shamed the continent since the dawn of history has come to an end--one reason, perhaps, why Europeans have become "soft" and too pacifistic in some American eyes. Those wars that have occurred in Europe in recent years, in Bosnia and Kosovo, for instance, have been in countries that have not been clasped in the EU's civilizing embrace.
What is happening now is that many EU opinion leaders want to extend these techniques of engagement and compromise to the test of the world, where they may often be far less suitable and, in some cases, such as Iraq, futile. The EU attempt to spread its own modus operandi internationally is aimed not just at defusing crises, but at establishing what would effectively be a new framework of world governance modeled on the European Union. Thus, French officials sometimes say that the World Trade Organization should play the same kind of role in international governance that the European Commission plays in the European Union.
There can be little doubt that, barring some kind of cataclysm, the historic trend is, and will continue to be, toward increasing world governance. One need only look at the unending array of international organizations that have proliferated since World War II and the forces that are constantly generating more of them. Those forces include myriad international non-governmental organizations, many of which have captured important levers of power, increasingly influential developing countries, and the whole field of activism now known loosely as "civil society."
The United States, particularly under Republican leadership, will continue to resist many aspects of this process. And so it should. Utopianism has always been dangerous, and many proposals for international action are counterproductive or nonsensical. A lot of them have more of less overt anti-American intentions. But many forms of international cooperation, such as the war against terrorism and the fights against money-laundering, international crime, poverty, and disease, are in both America's and the world's interests. So are multilateral efforts to establish open markets for trade and investment. In most of these areas, Atlantic cooperation is proceeding relatively smoothly.
In many other areas, however, there will continue to be tension between the differing approaches of the United States and the European Union, tension that will intermittently break out into conflict. The United States is accustomed to dominating the international organizations to which it belongs, such as NATO, the United Nations, and the WTO. It is much less happy with newer forms of treaty-based international cooperation, favored by the Europeans, that impinge more directly on its sovereignty. But France and its friends are unlikely to establish a coherent "counterweight" to U.S. power. Russia, for instance, is unlikely to believe its interests are best served by committing itself to the more permanent and cohesive Franco-German-Russian "pole" that the French Foreign Ministry is seeking.
Most EU countries want to be partners with the United States, not a "counterweight," and are keen to explore new ways of strengthening such a partnership. For while their values may increasingly differ, over issues ranging from the death penalty to the environment, the fundamental interests of Europe and the United States remain remarkably similar. Both need a stable, peaceful world in which trade, investment, and energy supplies can flow freely, reinforced by the wider spread of democracy and prosperity among less advanced nations. Both have much to fear from terrorism, international crime, and the spread of virulent new infectious diseases.
Their differences, though considerable and enduring, are ultimately more about means than ends. The restoration of better relations, however, will require at the very least a style in Washington that is more sympathetic to and better informed about European unification and serious efforts by European leaders to counter the hysterical anti-Americanism that is now so widespread among their citizens.
Reginald Dale is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a Hoover Institution media fellow.