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Informal General Affairs and External Relations Council 2-3/5/03: Contribution on the issue of EU-USA relations by John Bruton

Paper for Hellenic Presidency of the European Union
by John Bruton T.D., Former Prime Minister of Ireland,
Member of the Praesidium on the Convention on the Future of Europe
25th April 2003

We must get a firm grip on two fundamentals.

Firstly, the economic relationship between the European Union and the U.S. is by far the most important in the entire world. 

For example, European investment in Texas alone is responsible for 233,000 jobs and is greater than all U.S. investment in Japan. The trade figures underestimate the importance of this relationship because they leave out of account sales by European owned affiliates in the United States and vice versa.  This economic relationship is vital to jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, so we have no choice but to manage it politically.  We should keep disputes in proportion.  The areas of trade in which there are currently EU/US disputes amount to less than 1% of the total.

Secondly, the United States will not take Europe seriously unless Europe gets its own act together on all relevant issues, including defence. It is in the interest of the United States that Europe do this, because the United States needs to manage its trading and security relationship with Europe in a coherent and predictable way.  It is easier to do this with one interlocutor than with several.

That said, what must we do now?


We must recognise that the new United States doctrine of preventive or pre-emptive wars is a big and potentially dangerous departure from existing norms of inter-state behaviour.   But the concerns the United States has about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of global terrorism are genuine and pre-date the 11th September 2001.   United States public opinion does not realize how much the European Union has already done in the battle against international terrorism, both by legal changes and by the sharing of intelligence.   Nor does it fully understand the limitations in the war against terrorism of purely military power, of the kind in which the United States is so preeminent.

The European Union should establish a comprehensive and formalized dialogue with the United States on the linked questions of pre-emptive wars, weapons of mass destruction and the battle against terrorism.  A specific strand to the transatlantic dialogue should be established for these three issues.  This strand should involve government to government contact, as well as contact between people in the academic and security communities. The aim should be to develop a new, predictable, well understood, and intellectually sustainable doctrine for managing the post- September 11th world, with well understood rules about when war is justified and when it is not.  This should inform a joint EU/US approach to the United Nations.


Europe must recognise that it needs, after recent events, to mend its fences with large segments of U.S. public opinion.  United States public opinion does not understand the nature of the European Union or its achievements.  The E.U., as such, has little contact with the West, the South and the Mid West of the United States.  European studies departments are mainly to be found in East Coast Universities.

The Israel/Palestine dispute causes strain in E.U. / U.S. relations. It is important for Europeans to recognise the influence of evangelical Christianity on United States public opinion and particularly on the Republican Party.  Evangelicals believe that the Second Coming can only occur once the Jewish people have been converted to Christianity. Therefore Evangelicals have special religious interest in the preservation of the State of Israel. This is a reality which must be understood by European policymakers.
Divergent news on may issues arise from the fact that Europeans and Americans have different attitudes to science, and to problem-solving capacities generally.  Europeans are pessimistic about both, Americans are optimistic.  This leads us to react differently to the same issue.

To promote better understanding, the European Union should intensify its visitor programmes for young Americans, selecting young Americans, of all religious persuasions, who are likely to rise to leadership positions, with a particular emphasis on people from the West, the mid-West and the South.

European Union spokespeople should undertake a concerted programme of appearances in the media and at public events in the United States to explain what the Union is about and to explore the source of recent differences and misunderstandings.  United States audiences are open-minded, and are more willing to have their preconceptions challenged than are some on this side of the Atlantic!

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