- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

In this age of five-second soundbites, the average European or American would be hard-pressed to understand why the transatlantic relationship is nothing to be taken for granted, or easily substituted. While newspapers without exception focus on the friction points rather than on the positive aspects of our relationship, the challenge for policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic is to fill in the rather large gap left in the publics awareness by the news media.
President Bushs first trip to Europe is an important event, and a good occasion to attempt to crystallize why Americans should be interested in the discussions he will have today, among others, with the leadership of the European Union (EU) in Gothenburg, Sweden. Sound boring? Not at all. This will be a meeting of the worlds two largest, strongest and most productive economies, whose top ranking in the economic world order bestows a host of responsibilities, including climate change, expanding free trade, poverty reduction, etc.
Not many Americans know that the European Union, comprising 15 European nations, is Americas staunchest ally in all respects. That is because our overwhelmingly common interests expanding free trade, promoting economic growth and democracy and combating countless challenges from terrorism to disease are obscured by concerns we both express from time to time. At the moment, these include serious issues like climate change (where we are encouraged that the U.S. administration now concurs global warming is real) and missile defense (where we welcome the U.S. pledge to hold constructive dialogue with partners). These are important subjects and the debate is to be welcomed, not spurned. The last thing either side should want is a unilateral approach which alienates the other and undermines the whole relationship.
So, what is in this relationship for both sides? From the EU perspective, Europe needs America. Chris Patten, EU external relations commissioner, sees Europes ties with the United States as irreplaceable and unique: "No one shares our vision, our history, and our values as much as the United States. With no one else do we have such a wide range of common interests, such a fine-meshed network of co-operation at all levels of society and such a strong economic base to build on."
What is in it for the United States? A huge single market for American goods, a reliable place for American companies to invest, massive European investment in the United States supporting millions of high-paying jobs, and lets not forget the foundation an ally that shares the same basic values of freedom of speech and democracy.
As the European Unions envoy to the United States, I want Americans to see Europe for what it truly is not the Old World of dusty relics but the New Europe, revitalized by a single market of 380 million, about to embark on the greatest innovation in economic and financial history when the euro replaces most national currencies next year. I want Americans to see that the process of integration, which has been going on for almost half a century with unequivocal American support, has brought an unprecedented era of peace and stability to Western Europe. I want Americans to know that we are deeply engaged in the process to include all of Central and Eastern Europe as soon as they are ready.
There is no doubt about the EUs commitment to welcome new members from Central and Eastern Europe. It is a political imperative and an historic opportunity to unite Europe as never before. But wanting to proceed isnt enough, nor is the procedure for EU accession comparable to that for NATO membership; joining the EU requires a thorough negotiation of every provision of our treaty to ensure a countrys readiness for the obligations of membership. This has been the case for every member state, and is ultimately in each candidates interest. Rushing the pace serves no one.
Sometimes also, I have the impression that America is uneasy about the new Europe. This is particularly so when it comes to the European Unions plans for a new Rapid Reaction Force. I am asked if Europe plans to go it solo, if we want to wreck the alliance and so on. This could not be further from the truth. The United States has long encouraged Europe to organize its security side better, and that is what we are doing. The European Union is by far not a "superpower" in the traditional definition. But as it is more and more "walking the walk"and not merely "talking the talk," it will have to be recognized by America as an equal partner to solve the crises around the globe.
While we share common values, we do have different ways of doing things. Most of the time this enriches our relationship and other times it brings friction. Trade is a good example to put this in perspective. Roughly 98 percent of our exchanges are problem-free, and only 2 percent at most are affected by disputes. Usually, this has to do with different regulatory approaches; the United States prefers rules to be implemented by industry on a voluntary basis, where we have a clear preference for rules set by lawmakers.
The European Union and the United States are indispensable partners, as I believe the Gothenburg Summit will prove to the new administration, and the American people. Weve heard a lot about realism and realistic approaches lately, so lets apply it to our transatlantic relations, too.


Ambassador Guenter Burghardt is the head of the delegation of the European Commission

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