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 relations. 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 tradition. 

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 way. 

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.


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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.