Today's date:
  Summer 2003


Transatlantic Appeal: Put Away the Megaphones

Chris Patten is external affairs commissioner of Europe and Pascal Lamy is trade commissioner.

Brussels—The last year has been a miserable one for those of us who believe in European unity, in a strong transatlantic partnership, in NATO and in an authoritative role for the United Nations.

Tempers have flared. But let us not forget a few home truths.

We should remind ourselves, first, how much the United States and Europe need one another. A study just issued by the Center for Transatlantic Relations reveals that:

  • For most of the past decade, Europe has accounted for half of total global earnings of US companies.
  • Over the past eight years, US investment in the Netherlands alone was twice what it was in Mexico and 10 times what it was in China.
  • There is more European investment in Texas than US investment in Japan. So it would be hard to exaggerate the mutual economic interests of the United States and Europe.

But the stakes, of course, are much higher than that. The real point is that the US was born of Europe’s rib (to reverse the gender of Robert Kagan’s famous "Mars and Venus" analogy). We have common roots in the European enlightenment, and we share the body of ideas that emerged from that period of emancipation from received authority. We have worked together over the last half-century to fashion an international legal order covering not just trade and security, but human rights, too, and fundamental freedoms.

However sharp our differences from time to time, and however loudly we may shout at one another, we have a very similar underlying worldview, such as in our shared opposition to "total solutions"—whether of communism, national socialism or religious fundamentalism.

Those who urge President George W. Bush to walk away from the United Nations because, in Charles Krauthammer’s words, "the principal purpose of the Security Council is not to restrain tyrants but to restrain the United States," are unworthy of the great generation of US statesmen who built up the rule of law through global institutions 50 and more years ago. Luckily they represent a small minority in a US that remains determinedly internationalist.

As we feel our way through a very difficult passage, not just in transatlantic relations but Europe’s internal relations, too, it is important that high emotions do not cause us to exaggerate our differences on foreign policy. Even on the issue of the war in Iraq, the dispute has centered on the question of whether, and if so when, it was right to foreclose on Resolution 1441. None of us disagrees about the need to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Nor have we any doubt that Iraq would be better off without Saddam Hussein.

What lesson to draw as policy makers? That Europe and America should work to preserve common interests, to minimize their differences and to maximize their joint influence for good.

That means redoubling our work together to strengthen the world’s defenses against international terrorism. There is already a great deal of often technical and unglamorous work going on across the Atlantic over a wide agenda, covering everything from the security of container traffic and airlines to mutual extradition agreements, better controls against money-laundering and help to developing countries to meet their counter-terrorist obligations. We must push ahead, not least to ensure that new initiatives like this home in effectively on curbing terrorism and do not inadvertently restrict international trade and investment.

It means working harder than ever to develop our successful cooperation in the Balkans after the horrors of the 1990s. The Dayton Accords could not have been negotiated, nor the war in Kosovo won, without America—yet it is the European Union that is now the major force for stability in the region. The prospect of future membership in the EU provides essential underpinning as these countries struggle to regain prosperity and freedom. Not only is the EU by far the single largest assistance donor to the countries of the Western Balkans, but we provide most of the peacekeeping troops, too.

It is much the same story in Afghanistan, where the international community is struggling to help put the country back on its feet after the years of what was not so much state-sponsored terrorism as terrorist-sponsored statehood. Again the EU, with its member states, has a bigger military presence than the US and is the bigger donor—but we cooperate closely in the service of a single strategy.

A major test over the coming months will be the Middle East peace process, and the wider challenge of helping countries throughout the region to cope with the fallout from the war in Iraq. The US and the EU have worked with Russia and with the UN (in the so-called Quartet) on a road map that would guarantee both Israel and Palestine statehood and security within internationally recognized borders. The truth is that most people in the region—rightly or wrongly—believe that the US represents the interests of Israel. The US cannot, therefore, play the honest broker alone, and there will be no lasting settlement without transatlantic and wider regional cooperation.

On trade and economic policy, we need to do three things. First, we need to work together to ensure that the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Cancun in September is a success, to keep the Doha Development Round of negotiations on track for completion in 2004. Second, given that we still have a number of difficult disputes to manage—such as over foreign sales corporations, steel and GMOs (genetically-modified organisms)—we need to work harder than ever to promote WTO-compatible solutions. And third, we must advance the positive agenda on trade—nitty-gritty issues, such as advancing electronic tendering for procurement contracts and solving trade disputes before they go into the WTO process. On all these issues, we need to make real progress by the time of the next EU/US summit in June.

There has been plenty of talk recently—and in both the EU and US—about the need to insulate trade and economics from the war. Of course. But we have to make that happen. It is not a question of crossing our fingers, but of rolling up our sleeves.

We write this article as citizens of two countries, France and Britain, that find their own relations strained and unsettled by current events, just as the transatlantic link is under stress. Our simple appeal is that people on all sides of the debate over Iraq should put away their megaphones, acknowledge how much unites us across the Atlantic and recognize our shared responsibility to provide international leadership.

In Europe, the stark realities made so clear in the current crisis must give new impetus to the work underway to deepen the EU, and especially to the search for a common and foreign security policy worthy of the name. At the same time, Europe and America must redouble their efforts to strengthen the imperfect but necessary system of international governance.

Cooperation between Europe and the US was never an optional extra. This remains true on both sides of the Atlantic.