ECFR’s transatlantic report – interesting, but I have a few critical remarks

ECFR council member and former Austrian Secretary General for Foreign Affairs makes some critical remarks about our transatlantic report

I have read Jeremy Shapiro and Nick Witney’s report, Towards a post-American Europe: A Power Audit of EU-US
. I found it very though-provoking, and while I broadly agree
with the main thrust and sentiments of the authors, I would like to make a few
critical remarks: 

1. The authors rightly point out that the EU does not have a common policy
towards the USA.
However, this is not a specific phenomenon of the transatlantic relations. It
is a general problem caused by the fact that foreign policy still falls within
the competences of EU Member States. 

The EU has 27 EU foreign policies. At times they can be harmonised, but on
many issues the necessary consensus for a coherent EU foreign policy cannot be
reached. In such cases, Europe is incapable of
acting effectively. A few examples spring to mind: the Iraq war, the attitude towards Russia and the independence of
Kosovo. But there are of course many more. 

2. European deference to the US
seems somewhat overstated in the report. I doubt that many Europeans – except,
maybe in the former communist countries – feel that European security depends
on the US.
This is mainly because today most Europeans don’t feel threatened. 

3. I would also contest the statement in the report that “most European
countries believe they enjoy a special relationship with Washington”. This might be true for
some of the larger countries. But surely few other Member States entertain such
an illusion. What is missing in this context is a reference to the latent
anti-Americanism in many European countries – in France, for instance, it has a long

4. The authors correctly point to the Obama Administration’s pragmatism in
choosing those partners who can contribute most to their common endeavours.
They argue that this does no longer automatically mean the US will turn to Europe.
Yet elsewhere in the report the authors speak of a natural partnership between
EU and US. 

Although this sounds like a contradiction, both statements are in fact
correct. On the one hand, European and US interests do not always coincide. China and Russia are good examples. China is the US’s
main creditor and the US is
one of China’s
main export markets. The US’s
military presence in the Far East entails the potential of confrontation with China.
These circumstances do not obtain in the case of Europe. 

Russia, on the other
hand, is the EU’s direct neighbour and the energy security of major parts of
Europe depends on Russia.
Here the US
is in a totally different position. No wonder then that European and US
attitudes and policies vis avis these two powers are different. 

On other issues, however, the two sides of the Atlantic
are indeed natural partners. To who else can the Americans turn for support to
promote our common values of freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights?
Certainly not to Russia, or China,
or the Arab world. And the same is true for the Europeans. The report downplays
the transatlantic connection here. 

5. When it comes to European contributions to international crisis
management, the US
is often critical about European reluctance to engage in military and
especially in combat missions. In this context one must take into account the
broad consensus in European public opinion rejecting war as instrument of
foreign policy – exceptions being, to a certain degree, UK, sometimes the
Netherlands, and France (in particular if former French territories in Africa
are concerned). This consensus, which is the consequence of two tragic wars
fought on European territory, makes it extremely difficult for most European
governments to contribute to such missions, sending their soldiers into harms

6. To call for Europe to speak with one
voice in international affairs is entirely justified. But everyone does it and
have been doing so for a long time. It would be more helpful to think of
concrete ways and means – beyond an appeal to the political will of Members
States – to achieve such a goal.


The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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