America and Europe

Published on Project Syndicate, by Joschka Fischer, January 2008.

Deeply frustrated by the Bush administration’s policies, many people and governments in Europe hope for a fundamental change in American foreign policy after the upcoming presidential election. But it would take a medium-sized political miracle for these hopes not to be disappointed, and such a miracle will not happen – whoever is elected.

The Bush administration made numerous foreign-policy blunders with far-reaching consequences. But Bush neither invented American unilateralism nor triggered the transatlantic rift between the United States and Europe. To be sure, Bush reinforced both trends, but their real causes lie in objective historical factors, namely America’s being the sole world power since 1989 and Europe’s self-inflicted weakness. As long as America remains the sole world power, the next US President will be neither able nor willing to change the basic framework of America’s foreign policy …

… So what are the Europeans waiting for? Why not start now to overcome the traditional tension between NATO and the EU – especially as French policy toward NATO under President Nicolas Sarkozy has been moving in the right direction? A regular mutual presence of the Secretary General of NATO and of the head of EU foreign policy in the councils of both organizations doesn’t require much time and effort.

Why not initiate EU-US consultations at a high political level (with the Secretary-General of NATO participating in security matters) – for instance, by inviting the US Secretary of State and other members of the administration, such as the Treasury Secretary or the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to sit several times a year on the appropriate EU Council meetings? Why not have routine annual meetings between the European Council and the US President?

Periodic meetings between the appropriate committees of the US Congress and the European Parliament would also be of great importance, as ultimately both bodies will have to ratify any international treaties. The fate of the Kyoto Protocol should be a lesson to all parties involved. No such US-EU consultations would require any new agreements, so they could start without any further preliminaries.

There is one certainty that Europeans can take home from the US election campaign even today: with a more multilaterally oriented US foreign policy, Europe won’t be riding comfortably in the US world-political slipstream much longer. And that is a good thing. The new transatlantic formula must be greater say in decision-making in exchange for a greater share of responsibility. (full text).

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