Transatlantic Relations are experiencing an uneasy convalescence after one of their worst upheavals since World War II. But fundamental differences between Europe and the United States over the conduct of international affairs have not gone away and are unlikely to do so. At their deepest level, the clashes reflect inevitable tensions between a United States that feels its sole-superpower status gives it a broad entitlement to get its way in world affairs and a uniting Europe that is struggling to become a more influential political and economic actor on the global scene. These tensions are likely to persist under any administration in Washington and regardless of whether European governments are more of less pro-Atlantic.
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. …