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

The United States and the European Union: Is a partnership still possible?

by Dick Benschop, former State Secretary for Foreign Affairs (The Netherlands)


Five remarks, fully realizing how easy it is to give advice, but how difficult to ...

1. Get off the moral high ground.
A shouting match in self-righteousness between Europe and the US serves no sensible purpose. The problem of the past six months was that almost nobody could find or was willing to use the brakes. We have witnessed the dynamics of escalation between the „activist“ US and an „legalist“ Europe. The arrogance of power on the American side, was countered by the arrogance of impotence on the European side. The political fall out was enormous, and especially harmful for the EU.

2. Get relevant.
The problem that should concern Europe most, is not whether America is the sole superpower in the world, but:
.  how Europe defines its relation with the US and
.  what capabilities Europe organizes to match that relation.
For the US the relationship with the EU (or its intensity) might be a relationship of „choice“, for the EU it is a relationship of „necessity“. Even when the US works on the basis of „coalitions of the willing“, we have to blame ourselves for our divisions and our lack of influence.

3. A partnership beyond Ares (Mars) and Aphrodite (Venus).
The desired relationship between the EU and the US is one of partnership. Europe should avoid the temptation of defining itself as a counterweight to the US. We have too much in common for that.
The partnership is in danger of getting very typical. Dad (the US) is obsessed with security issues and Mum (the EU) is taking care of everybody. In modern partnerships the „hard“ and „soft“ parts are more evenly distributed.
Even if you want to use the less suitable Mars and Venus-approach, it is good to keep in mind that they had an affair and became five children, amongst whom Phoebus (the God of Fear and Panic), but also Eros and Harmonia!

4. Make an agenda.
Of course the rhetoric is improving across the Atlantic. But if we want to avoid the same rifts all over again, we have to agree on the agenda and the goals we are setting. What is the policy towards Iran? What methods are the US and the EU going to use to enforce the implementation of the roadmap? How about the clear and present danger in Pyongyang? Pakistan and India?
The EU must try to get out of the position of always outlining difficulties for doing something. The EU must recognize the value driven aspect of American foreign policy.

5. Choose.
The Europeans very much want to see a more coherent and effective European foreign policy, defence included. They get frustrated by the gap between the solemn declarations and the failure over Iraq, which was a setback compared to what has been achieved in Kosovo and Macedonia. So, we have to choose. Either we get more realistic about the possibilities of an European foreign and defence policy, or we improve our performance, both political and in terms of capabilities. Saying one thing and doing the other, is the worst option.

PS
Similar remarks, or even more nasty ones, could be made about the United States foreign policy. If asked, I am happy to provide the State Department with those remarks. In the meantime we have to focus on our responsibility: Europe.


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