Think Tank's Trans-Atlantic Advice: Europe Must Stop 'Fetishizing' American Relationship

By in Washington

In a week when European affairs are prominent, a study by an influential Brussels think tank suggests the EU is going about things the wrong way. The Europeans must stop being so submissive, they must present a united front on foreign policy and they must work toward a "post-American" state of affairs, the study says.

When America says jump, Europe asks how high? But a new study says the European Union must stop taking such a submissive attitude toward it's trans-Atlantic ally. Zoom
AFP

When America says jump, Europe asks how high? But a new study says the European Union must stop taking such a submissive attitude toward it's trans-Atlantic ally.

It's Europe Week in Washington. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been asked to speak to a joint session of the United States Congress on Tuesday as part of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only about a hundred world leaders have ever addressed a joint session of Congress. The last German chancellor to be bestowed the honor was Konrad Adenauer, who spoke before the US legislature in 1957 during the Cold War.

Shortly after on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama will also greet top European Union leaders at the EU-US summit. A special strategy meeting is planned on energy issues.

Europe Finally Has A Phone Number -- But Is Anyone Calling?

One might almost believe that in this new Obama era, Europe's phone number -- that same telephone number that former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger jokingly suggested years ago -- is now available in Washington's most influential little black books. But is anyone really dialing those digits? Experts at the European Council on Foreign Relations, an influential think tank that American billionaire philanthropist George Soros founded in 2007, are skeptical. The role of the think tank -- which describes itself as the first "pan-European think tank," and which has offices in Berlin, Paris, London, Madrid and Sofia -- is to "promote informed debate on the development of coherent, effective and values-based European foreign policy."

The council released a study on Monday called "Toward a Post-American Europe," based on wide-ranging interviews and research conducted in the 27 EU member states. In it, the authors make a clear appeal to European leaders: This "fetishization" of the trans-Atlantic relationship must stop, write Jeremy Shapiro and Nick Witney. It is high time that Europe declare a new, "post-American" age and do away with old myths about the trans-Atlantic relationship. Myths like the idea that the continent's security is dependent on American protection, is one example they cite. Or the one about American and European interests being the same at heart. Or the myth about European unity being damaging to the trans-Atlantic relationship because, as the authors put it, "ganging up on the US would be improper -- indeed counterproductive -- given the 'special relationship' that most European states believe they enjoy with Washington."

Washington Is Focussed On New Alliances, Europe Is Not

"Globalization is increasingly redistributing power to the South and the East," the authors of the paper write. "The United States has understood this, and is working to replace its briefly held global dominance with a network of partnerships that will ensure that it remains the indispensable nation."

Washington has left Cold War thinking -- a time when the support of the European nations was particularly important -- behind and is seeking pragmatic alliances with new partners such as China. As American President Barack Obama declared when opening the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue earlier this year, "the relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century." And that American attitude is the opposite of the Europeans, who still cling to strategies and philosophies evolved out of decades of American hegemony that have led to an exaggeratedly submissive attitude toward the US.

Because so many statesmen believe in keeping up a close and cozy relationship with the US, the Europeans in general have been able to come up with a unified stand in their dealings with the Americans. The sort of unified stand they are able to take in dealings with the Chinese or the Russians seems impossible here. In fact, in their desire to flatter and cajole the Americans, the Europeans have managed to get themselves enmeshed in undertakings that may not even serve the best interests of the EU -- undertakings like the conflict in Afghanistan.

European Behavior Toward US Seen As 'Infantile'

"Seen from Washington, there is something almost infantile about how European governments behave towards them -- a combination of attention seeking and responsibility shirking," Shapiro and Witney note. The result being that Europe is often ignored by the US, marginalized, or somehow worked around. And if none of that works then, the authors say that the Americans may take a "divide-and-rule" approach, where a lack of consensus among the Europeans is exploited to further American ends.

Some examples of this include:

  • Afghanistan: Although Europe contributes almost exactly the same amount in terms of financial aid and provides almost 40 percent of all foreign troops there, it has "minimal influence on how development strategies in Afghanistan are determined or how the war is being fought, essentially following the American lead."

  • Middle East: In this region, the Europeans are also contributing a lot financially. But they shy away from taking any sort of leadership here and tolerate America's procrastination in the region.

  • Russia: A unified EU approach is essential here. But a consensus is difficult because "Europe's compulsion to look over its shoulder at the US has repeatedly undermined its efforts to bring its differing national approaches closer together," the study says.

  • Trans-Atlantic Economic Council: When the council -- established by former US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to facilitate better economic cooperation -- met recently, the Europeans turned up with their top people; the delegation was led by European Commission Vice President GŁnter Verheugen of Germany. But the Americans merely sent department heads to the Trans-Atlantic Economic Council. Barely any advances were made. That would have been the same even if the negotiators had been more equal, grumbled one of the participants. Really, though, the EU should be more prudent than this -- they should turn up with negotiators not as obviously important. But they do not dare to do this. And no doubt next time they will turn up with similarly significant VIPs and leave angry once again.

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