Whoever is eventually declared the next American president will have to deal with a more assertive Europeby Charles Grant / January 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2001 issue of Prospect Magazine
Dear mr bush, we Europeans, as you know, have our doubts about a Bush presidency. We knew Al Gore and he knew us, while you have never set foot in Britain, France or Germany. You cancelled a pre-election tour of Europe. And some of your comments during the campaign-for example that Europe should send peacekeepers to Kosovo, when we already provide 80 per cent of them-made us wish that we could vote in your election.
However, your (probable) victory has not made us frantic. We got to know and respect your foreign policy team during your father’s presidency. So long as you keep them close at hand when you need to take a crucial decision, we shall feel comfortable. And we even think that you will try harder than Al Gore would have done to re-start the world trade round.
Nevertheless, deep down we have some big concerns, and they have nothing to do with you and your advisers. (Most of what follows could be addressed to the Gore camp as well.) Two trends are creating strains in transatlantic relations. One is that the US is becoming increasingly unilateralist-less and less willing to work within a multinational framework of global rules and institutions. The second trend is that Europe is becoming a power in its own right, rather than a collection of squabbling nation states. The EU has long been a unified force in trade negotiations. It is now becoming one in monetary and security policy.
These changes are secular, not cyclical. And they raise the question of whether Europe and America will drift apart or whether the alliance can renew itself as a more balanced partnership. The next four years could be crucial in determining which path we take. If you handle the Europeans with sensitivity the second, more benign outcome is more likely.
European leaders are not seriously worried that America is becoming “isolationist,” in the sense that it will withdraw from its post-second world war engagement with the world. But now that the US is the sole superpower, it seems-from a European view-to have less use for international organisations and treaties. It can more easily get its way through dealing with countries on a one-to-one basis, sometimes bullying them to accept its goals.