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Dominique Moisi

A sea-change in the transatlantic relationship
Financial Times 2001-02-12

More than 10 years after the end of the cold war, a sea-change is taking place in the relationship between Europe and the US. The troubled partnership so well analysed by Henry Kissinger in the early 1960s may be less troubled than in the past: but there is less intimacy, less partnership and more competition.

The west is finally coming to grips with the realities of the post-cold war world. Of course, in strict foreign policy and security terms, the alliance has been through much harder times - during France’s departure from the integrated military body of Nato in the mid-1960s, for example, or the Euro-missiles crisis in the early 1980s. By comparison, Washington’s attempt to present its national missile defence system as non-negotiable, a moral imperative, looks a minor problem. So, too, do US criticism of the European Security and Defence Initiative, or the possible reduction of the US military presence in the Balkans, not to mention the concomitant and contradictory emphasis on Nato enlargement to include the Baltic States. Nevertheless, the current tensions do point to a potentially more antagonistic foreign and security policy in Washington, and to an era in which the US will be less willing to protect the world from itself and more inclined to protect the US from the world.

These changes would not be a matter of such profound concern if it were not for the geopolitical, social and cultural environment in which they are taking place. With the cold war behind us, ethical and social issues - the death penalty, abortion - have a more direct bearing on international relations: the way you perceive a country determines whether you accept or reject its foreign policy style.

History may remember the Clinton years as a transition period, a twilight zone between the cold war era and whatever is to follow it. The combination of Wilsonian moralism abroad and cynicism at home that characterised the Clinton era may have been better suited to maintaining balanced and healthy transatlantic relations than the mixture of moralism at home and realpolitik abroad that seems to be the hallmark of the first weeks of George Bush’s presidency.

The so-called Third Way - an attempt to reconcile the dynamism and flexibility of American capitalism with the protection of European social democracy - may have been more rhetorical than real, but a certain natural ideological empathy did exist between the Clinton administration and its European counterparts.

It would be an understatement to say that no such empathy exists with the Bush administration. To many Europeans, the new team in Washington appears to be returning to the 17th century puritanism of the Founding Fathers - to take literally the words ”In God we trust” that appear on dollar bills.

Europeans, like many Americans, feel more in tune with the spirit of the 18th century American enlightenment. Europe has much more in common with California than Texas or Tennessee. Without immigrants from Europe, Hollywood would not be what it is today. Whatever the criticisms of the US film industry’s monopolistic practices, most Europeans - including Frenchmen - are moved by the universal nature of Hollywood’s message, in part because they have contributed to it. If they feel anything towards the Texan culture taking over the White House, it is alienation. Texas is another world, one most Europeans want nothing to do with.

If, as a result of the end of the cold war, Europe and the US are no longer bound by a common enemy, and if, as a result of globalisation, the US is perceived both as a universal model to be followed and a convenient scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in the world, then the west had better watch out. It is much too early and probably very unfair to accuse the new US administration of blatant unilateralism and arrogance. Yet for the first time since 1947 and the launch of the Marshall Plan, the potential exists for a decoupling between the US and Europe.

Washington should not regard Europe’s modest but significant efforts to create a rapid deployment force with disdain, nor reject it outright in the name of Nato. For a Europe trying to define its political and diplomatic identity, the European Security and Defence Initiative is a moral imperative of sorts, akin to its commitment to enlargement. Its difficulties in getting its act together and in financing its ambition should not be used as an excuse to oppose Europe’s path towards maturity in security terms. The political benefits of ESDI in terms of Europe’s sense of purpose far outweigh potential strategic costs to the transatlantic alliance.

Americans should also realise that in western Europe at least, a new form of anti-Americanism is materialising, one based not on what the US did at the time of the Vietnam war, but on what it is today: a more distant land, a more alien culture with strange reactionary instincts in spite of globalisation and the attraction of US-style capitalism to European business.

A strong transatlantic relationship, which is as badly needed today as yesterday, requires a real understanding of the changes that have taken place in Europe in the last eight years with the launch of the euro and the return of economic self-confidence. Washington cannot use the stereotypes and sometimes justified prejudices of yesterday to deal with the more mature and complex European realities of today.

The writer is deputy director of the Paris-based Institut Francais des Relations Internationales. He writes here in a personal capacity.


Eurocrats are from Mars, Cosmocrats from Venus
By Dominique Moisi
FT, June 4, 2000

The writer is deputy director of the Paris-based Institut Francais des Relations Internationales. He writes here in a personal capacity.

More about the Institute

Is globalisation good or bad for Europe? The answer depends on which Europe you mean. With its economies growing again and unemployment falling, the continent has regained its confidence. The air smells almost as sweet as it did in the 1950s and 1960s; Europe may be entering a period of stability and prosperity comparable to the postwar trente glorieuse.

Such fashionable sentiments may prove a huge exaggeration, or at least premature. But they expose the widening gulf between the "real" Europe - of entrepreneurs, of cities and regions - and the institutional Europe of Brussels ". While civil society is blossoming, the eurocrats are facing one of their most severe crises of identity and legitimacy.

This dichotomy stems in large part from the progress of globalisation and its uneven impact on the continent. The free movement of capital, goods and ideas has acted like a powerful acid on the state, eroding its legitimacy, if not its responsibilities, while at the same time invigorating the concept of nationhood.

Europe's citizens may expect less from government in terms of job creation, education and protection; but in a world in which they want to assert their differences, they expect more from their nation state in terms of identity. They demand less from politics; but more from politicians, in terms of competence, honesty and transparency.

As a result, the idea of a life given to serving the state has become less attractive. In the past, the ambition of France's brightest young people was to enter elite schools such as ENA, the national school of administration, and to run the country's prestigious and all-powerful public administration. Today, the French youth wants to become internet billionaires.

These young Europeans may feel European by birth, or even citizens of the world, but they do not feel represented by the institutions of Brussels. Cosmocrats and Eurocrats live in different worlds.

Consciously or not, the nation states that have been forced to surrender some of their authority to the institutions of a largely federal Europe - the Commission, the European Central Bank - have been quick to take advantage of Brussels' crisis of legitimacy. They see the desire for identity in a global world as an opportunity to strengthen a largely intergovernmental Europe.

The Commission is losing on both fronts: it suffers from the erosion of the state and also from the "return" of nationhood.

It is, of course, probably unfair to generalise in this way about the Commission as a whole. Two commissioners, Pascal Lamy and Mario Monti, seem to carry more clout than most, and not only for their obvious and recognised personal qualities. Mr Lamy, the trade commissioner, embodies a Europe that, in his area of responsibility, really does exist and can credibly face the US or speak independently to the Chinese. Mr Monti has undeniable powers when it comes to issues of competition and competitiveness within the European Union.

In foreign and security matters, by contrast, there are too many voices and not enough policy, a very large budget and a very limited legitimacy in spending it. The individuals are not the problem. Chris Patten and Javier Solana are in their different ways obvious and strong choices, but their scope for manoeuvre is, to say the least, limited.

More than a year ago, Hubert Védrine, the French foreign minister, coined the term "federative shock" to describe the spillover effect from the launch of the euro, which would irresistibly establish Europe's identity around the world. So far this federative shock has not been felt. You might even wonder if the relative weakness of the single currency against the dollar may be due not just to economic fundamentals, but also to the EU's lack of political credibility.

A few days ago at the Elysée Palace, Jacques Chirac, the French president, emphasised a pragmatic approach to the "real" Europe, which contrasted with the federalist dream outlined previously by Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister.

Mr Chirac's speech included a powerful but problematic sentence:

"It would be vain," he said, "to define political Europe in an abstract manner. The European Union will have truly asserted itself on the international scene when its inhabitants identify themselves as European."

It is a lucid statement - the prudent formulation of the obvious. But it may also be too passive a vision, especially today, on the eve of the French presidency of the EU.

In the 1950s and the 1960s, when the various European states were stronger, their dynamic activism was a key to the construction of Europe. In the aftermath of the second world war, nations were not perceived as the last refuge of a threatened identity. In fact, nationalism had led to Europe's suicide, and the EU defined itself negatively as a bulwark the return of its darkest instincts and against the threat of the Soviet empire.

Today, Europe is more of a reality and less of a project. Because the Soviet Union no longer exists, and Franco-German postwar reconciliation is complete, Europe has to define itself positively - and that is much more difficult. It also has to accommodate that new balance between the state and the nation, the relative demotion of one and the stronger emotional attachment to the other.

The paradox is that France's vision of a multipolar world, rather than one in which the US is the sole superpower, presupposes a Europe that is much closer to Mr Fischer's description than to France's prudent scheme. To assume the role it wants to play in future, France must change its perception of what it is and what it will be. That is a difficult exercise in a pre-electoral climate.

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