A new "special relationship" :Why Europe and the United States should work together

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 1 June 2004




Pagac, K.H. (2004), "A new "special relationship" :Why Europe and the United States should work together", European Business Review, Vol. 16 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/ebr.2004.05416cab.002



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

A new "special relationship" :Why Europe and the United States should work together

A new "special relationship"

Why Europe and the United States should work together

Keywords: European Union, USA, International relations

The relationship between the European Union and the USA this century has been characterised by rivalry, even distrust, an emphasis on social and cultural differences rather than those qualities and values which unite. According to the author, this is because the EU is still trying to establish its identity, both on the world stage and in terms of its own institutions and guiding principles. At the same time, the USA has tended towards an uncompromising unilateralist position, which has made bridge building difficult. It is argued that, for the USA and the EU to be effective in the world, not least against terrorism, they must acknowledge their interdependence as democratic cultures. This requires flexibility, imagination and concessions on both sides. For an enlarged EU, flexibility in international affairs should be linked to an increasing internal flexibility, a recognition that the abolition of national differences within Europe is hopelessly Utopian. The USA and a democratic Europe of Nations should co-operate and learn from each other, instead of engaging in futile competition.

Europe and the USA need each other more than many politicians on either side of the Atlantic care to admit. There are strong historical, cultural and economic links, as well as a multitude of common interests between Europe and the USA, which cannot be ignored and which will grow in importance in a world dominated by globalisation and multi-polar power centres. Regrettably, the creation, growth and enlargement of the European Union is often plagued by introspection whilst the neo-conservative US administration under President George W. Bush has, on recent occasions, tended towards a unilateralism which is not conductive to a strong transatlantic partnership. This has led to unnecessary frictions between Europe and the USA – the main culprit of which is, unfortunately, Europe and not the other way round. This confrontation which serves nobody’s interests, least of all Europe’s, must stop and must give way to a constructive “special relationship” which is, admittedly, more difficult to forge between two power blocs than between individual countries (for example: Great Britain and the USA). The way forward is for the European Union and the USA to acknowledge this interdependence and to act accordingly, without one trying to patronise or to dominate the other.

In order to understand some of the difficulties which stand in the way of such genuine transatlantic partnership, one must go back to the Cold War era when a common enemy (the former Soviet Bloc) guaranteed a wide-ranging coalition between Western Europe and the USA which manifested itself, amongst other areas, in a strong commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The demise of the Soviet Union and the break-up of its Eastern European satellites has effectively removed the Cold War threat and, especially in Europe, more so than in the USA, it was felt to be a new renaissance of nationalistic policies, especially on the part of such major European players as France and Germany. The major, or almost only, glue which kept Europe and the USA still closely together was Great Britain but that position was and still is often criticised for “sitting on the fence” or being beholden to the USA in a bilateral “special relationship” which has existed for many decades but is increasingly difficult to sustain as Great Britain is expected to decide whether to be “at the heart of Europe” or simply be a minority partner of the USA.

This is a false choice to begin with, as maintaining a close relationship with the USA should not be interpreted as being automatically anti-European. Being an active and committed member of the European Union is not mutually exclusive with maintaining and nurturing a closer partnership with the USA. The problem lies fundamentally in the fact that the European Union often thinks it must develop into “fortress Europe” to get anywhere, especially vis-à-vis the USA. In many respects this is the sign of a mega inferiority complex on the part of the European Union and some of its key players like France and Germany – as well as widespread jealousy with regard to the might and success, economically and militarily, of the USA, which is often perceived as the only remaining superpower in the world. If the European Union wants to grow in influence on an international scale it must become more self-confident, more coherent and develop a long-term vision which is real and realistic and goes beyond pure “mission statements” enshrined in a multitude of European union Treaties.

More important than anything else must be the realisation that a large percentage of the European public sees the European Union as a “plaything” of politicians and bureaucrats and there is little, if any, true connect between the ordinary European citizens and the European Union institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg – hence, amongst other things, the pathetically low turnout at European parliamentary elections. Nobody really understands, nobody really cares and nobody thinks that they can make a difference if only they became actively involved in European Union affairs. The fact that so many European citizens remain apathetic vis-à-vis the European Union is a fundamental public relations mistake on the part of Brussels and the failure to “sell” the benefits and purposes of a strong European Union to the general public. Add to this basic deficiency the negative image of the European Union created by widely reported corruption, inefficiency and bureaucratic blunders and it is no surprise that there are so many Euro-phobes, who often outnumber the Euro-philes. Take patriotism as an example, which the USA possesses in spades but which may exist in Europe on a country-by-country basis but certainly not (yet) for the European Union as a whole. Such ambitions as the wish that people in Europe would feel “European” first and “French”, “German”, “Italian”, “Dutch”, etc. second are, for the moment, utopian.

And let us not forget that the concept of the European Union, as it is envisaged today, is relatively new (post World War II) and historically unprecedented, both geographically and institutionally. By comparison, the USA has a head start of more than 200 years and the USA has grown organically over this time, whereas the European Union often looks like the product of genetic engineering. To put it in more modern terms, the USA has developed a distinct “national DNA” of its own, whereas the European Union has a long way to go before it can boast similar distinction.

The Cold War may be over but we are facing equally, if not more, dangerous new threats like global terrorism. If 9/11 has taught us anything it should be that Europe and the USA have every reason to fight this evil by acting in close and ever closer partnership. There is nothing which justifies a separate, go-it-alone strategy on the part of either Europe or the USA. And when Europe criticises the USA because of its perceived unilateral and preventive actions (viz. Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.) it is mostly because the European Union cannot make up its mind and develop a coherent common foreign and defence policy. One hopes that never again will we see the regrettable spectacle of one part of Europe (Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland) supporting the USA, with another part of Europe (France, Germany, Benelux) opposing it. This is not what a genuine transatlantic partnership should be about.

Notwithstanding the above, there are many very good reasons for Europe to develop a strong, coherent, effective, transparent and democratic European Union – not on the model of a “United States of Europe”, which would never work, but a European Union of independent member states who act together where this is to the greater benefit of the whole community but where the individual sovereignty is preserved. In order to become more effective, the European Union requires some form of Constitution, a draft of which now exists as a result of the commendable work done by the so-called Convention under the chairmanship of former French President, Valery Giscard d’Estaing. But, as the failure of the recent Intergovernmental Conference and the last European Union summit in Brussels have demonstrated, agreement on the pan-European Constitution is difficult to achieve. This should not come as a surprise when one remembers the extraordinary diversity of the present and future European Union member states, ranging from highly developed industrial countries, several members of the G-7, to far less developed countries in Southern and Eastern Europe. As far as the latter are concerned, it must be borne in mind that, after 50 years under the Soviet yoke, these countries do not want to give up their freshly found freedom, both politically and economically, and they understandably do not want to be dictated to by Brussels. Their interest is to find political stability, democracy, military protection and, above all, economic prosperity. And the rest of the European Union must accept that this will only come at considerable cost associated with it and should be a reminder to all who think that European enlargement, however desirable per se, will be easy.

Those political leaders who indulge in grandiose European plans should also remember that what the European needs, urgently and just as much as a Constitution which provides institutional reform, is a geographic definition. The future strength of the European Union will not lie in numbers but in the quality and compatibility of its member states. This issue has not yet been addressed sufficiently – apart perhaps from the question whether Turkey should become a candidate for membership. Turkey is a member of NATO, but this does not automatically justify membership of the European Union. The sometimes mooted inclusion of other countries in the Mediterranean Basin (North Africa) is equally controversial. The risk of a future implosion of the European Union increases the more unequal and incompatible member states are added. This aspect is as dangerous as the continued discussion of a “Two-Speed” Europe, which would divide the European Union more than uniting it.

“Less might be more” when it comes to building a viable European Union in the long run! At present, one has the impression of an undue haste in cobbling together an artificial and superficial edifice before the foundations have been properly laid. The introduction of a unique European currency, the Euro, was well intended and was realised with less than originally anticipated difficulties. But, here again, this “one-size-fits-all” approach is and continues to be risky. The national economies of the present 15 and future ten additional member states are vastly different and the monetary and economic discipline which is needed to underpin a pan-European currency is lacking, despite a so-called “Stability Pact” – and, disappointingly, leading European Union member states like France and Germany are the greatest offenders when it comes to sticking to the rules. What chance then for new member states like Poland, Hungary and let alone Bulgaria and Romania sticking to the rules if the aforementioned supposed “role models” don’t? Again, comparisons with the USA are unrealistic and, in fact naive. The USA is an organically grown nation with one currency and even though there may be regional state-by-state economic difficulties (example: California), there is one Central Bank (Federal Reserve Board), one monetary policy and one economic policy for the whole nation. Such uniformity cannot be realistically taken for granted for the excessively diversified European Union and the historic baggage the member states, present and future, have brought into the Union.

The way forward for Europe and the USA is inevitably one of a close transatlantic partnership amongst equals acting democratically and in full compliance with international law and human rights. Anything short of this stipulation would bear enormous risks, both from the European and US perspective. In addition, especially, the European Union must abandon its often-misguided adherence to political correctness and open up internally and to the outside. Together, but only together, the European Union and the USA (whether under Republican or Democratic administration), with a strong commitment to the United Nations, can remain the leading force in international politics, international security and international economics. This credo has nothing to fear from globalisation or multi-polarity in super power politics. It is the only way forward.

Karl H. PagacLes Européens en France, Villeneuve-Loubet, France

AcknowledgementsA longer version of Dr Pagac’s article will appear in the Journal of the European Atlantic Group (London) later in 2004. www.eag.org.uk

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