Getting Together Again

By Niblett, Robin | The World Today, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Getting Together Again


Niblett, Robin, The World Today


US-EU RELATIONS AS EUROPE TURNS FIFTY: ROBIN NIBLETT

Fifty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the European Union is a living example of the regenerative powers of opening protected national markets and of the political benefits to states of devolving aspects of sovereign control to new supranational institutions. While the EU's end-state remains uncertain, and the challenges it faces today are as daunting as at any stage in its evolution, its accomplishments are real. Following centuries of violence, war is inconceivable between its members. Its ongoing eastern enlargement has bridged the divide that cut across Europe for much of the last century. Standing together, the EU and its citizens form one of the world's most economically prosperous and politically influential powers. As its second half-century begins, however, the question of the EU's future is of intense interest also to the United States, which hopes to see a strong and dynamic Europe emerge that is also willing to be an effective partner to the US on the world stage.

THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE European Union carries a special significance for relations between the Union, its members, and the United States. It is arguable that the European Economic Community might never have evolved into the European Union without the benevolent protection of the US's nuclear and conventional military umbrella during the half-century that Washington and its European allies were locked in an ideological struggle with the Soviet bloc.

America's guarantee removed the security dilemma from relations between EU member states and the French could view West Germany's economic renewal with some equanimity. It also allowed members to focus on their economic integration without undue fear of outside interference. And preferential access for European products to the US market in the 1950s, combined with well-tuned economic assistance to Western Europe in the Marshall Plan, laid the groundwork for a cooperative European economic resurgence.

Today, the US and EU economic relationship is by far the most integrated in the world, a relationship dominated by the extensive web of direct investments in each other's economies more than it is by the $500 billion of annual two-way merchandise trade. And these investments continue to grow at rates that dwarf those each side is making in the rising economies of China and India.

But having registered these successes, where do US-EU relations stand today? To state the obvious, the transatlantic relationship is under enormous strain. Most fundamentally, the two sides have yet to adapt to the end of the Cold War. After forty years of sharing a common strategic objective - the defeat of international communism - they have still to unite around a new set of common objectives that would provide either the imperative for overcoming bilateral disputes or the general incentive to make the necessary diplomatic, political and financial commitments for successful joint action on the world stage.

Since the end of the Cold War, EU politicians have applied their principal energies to European institutional and economic construction. For their part, US leaders, most explicitly those in the first administration of President George Bush, have been intent on re-writing the Cold War treaties, institutions, and bargains on the basis that what serves the US national interest will ultimately serve the world's interest also.

For a brief moment in the two or three months after the attacks of September 11 2001, it appeared the two sides would unite to confront the new specter of international terrorism. But Washington's rapid shift from fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to fighting then President Saddam Hussein in Iraq took the transatlantic relationship to a fifty-year nadir. It is all the more remarkable that, three years after the public splits between EU and US leaders over the decision to go to war in Iraq and despite the US-led coalition's evident failures, US-EU relations have today regained some of their past stability. …

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