The pressures of fast-paced global capitalism, plus long-
cultural differences, are driving the US and Europe apart as never
Recent flashpoints in the transatlantic relationship have ranged
from European banana tariffs to the acquittal of an American pilot
charged with killing 20 tourists in Italy after his aircraft severed
their ski-lift cable.
Ahead lie probable disputes over beef trade, Kosovo, and the
direction of NATO.
None of this means that arguably the most successful international
partnership in history is about to dissolve. The common heritage is
too strong for that.
But a Europe newly unified by a common currency is becoming more
assertive and more willing to criticize what some Europeans see as
America's increasing tendency to act unilaterally on important
"There are clearly incidents that are causing very emotional
reactions and language back and forth across the Atlantic that
been heard in some time, in this intensity," says Helmut
a scholar of US-European relations at the Brookings Institution in
At first glance the banana dispute is the most inexplicable of
current US-European tensions. Neither the US nor Europe grows the
fruit, which requires tropical climes.
In a nutshell, or perhaps in a banana skin, the disagreement is
this: The US says Europe discriminates unfairly in favor of bananas
produced by former European colonies, largely Caribbean islands.
Tariffs lower European sales of Central American fruit produced by
The World Trade Organization, a new body which is supposed to
settle this kind of thing, has sided with the US on the banana
question several times. Yet the European Union has simply tweaked
its protective devices, and continued on.
A frustrated US is now ready to slap punitive tariffs on a range
of Europe-produced products in retaliation.
Two themes lie beneath this dispute, say experts. One is
globalization: Will the EU be able to continue its long-standing
practice of subtle protectionism in favor of some key aspects of its
economy? (The US is itself far from immune to such protectionism
pressures, it must be noted.)
Banana tariffs aren't the only barrier the US is complaining
about, after all. US officials have griped long and loud about new
aircraft noise rules which they claim are written so as to promote
the sale of European airliners and engines.
Then there's beef. The EU has banned the import of beef from
cattle treated with artificial growth hormones, a common US industry
practice, for a decade. The WTO has twice ruled against this
practice, and set a May 13 deadline for compliance.
The second underlying theme is the future of the WTO itself. Can
the world settle thorny trade questions via an international body,
while competing fiercely in a variety of markets? …