THE search for ways to maintain close US-European ties after the
cold war is leading out of diplomatic corridors and into corporate
board rooms. US and European business leaders are now in a stronger
position than they ever have been to shape the transatlantic
The immediate opportunity for the private sector arises from an
invitation by the Clinton administration and the European Union to
nearly 100 executives to meet in Seville, Spain, Nov. 10-11. Their
mandate is to map out a practical strategy that will link the US
and European markets more tightly.
At a deeper level, the upcoming business dialogue reverses two
longtime patterns in US-European relations.
First, trade and investment have begun to displace alliance ties
as the main cohesive force binding the United States and Europe
together. This sea change was unthinkable during the cold war, when
close military and diplomatic links were relied upon to keep
US-European conflict in check. Trade negotiators hammered each
other for decades with full knowledge that the strategic imperative
of Atlantic unity would take precedence over economic disputes. The
increased fragility of the security pillar in recent years,
however, has shifted weight to the economic foundation of long-term
Second, government officials have shown a newfound willingness
to yield the initiative to business leaders. This turnaround is
clearly a step in the right direction. While years of pitched trade
battles have left a bitter legacy at the official level, US and
European firms have invested more than half a trillion dollars in
one anothers' markets. Two-way trade exceeds $200 billion per year.
Business has a much keener sense than government of what can be
done to create new trade and investment opportunities.
To be sure, a brief retreat of senior corporate executives is
not going to work miracles overnight. Expectations are too high
that the business dialogue in Seville will pave the way for the
early removal of all barriers between the US and European markets.
As a practical matter, a Transatlantic Free-Trade Area is not
within reach in the near or midterm - especially in light of the
European Union's own daunting agenda for enlargement and monetary
In addition, the private sector is not going to turn contentious
US-European trade negotiations into a love feast. Business cannot
be expected to sacrifice the bottom line for the political
objective of Atlantic cooperation.
The most serious complication is the overall imbalance between
US and European competitiveness. …