George W. Bush will attend a NATO summit in Brussels on February 22, dine with French President Jacques Chirac, confer with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Mainz, Germany, and on the final day of his tour meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava. The White House insists that its quarrels with Europe over Iraq can be buried, more or less decently.
Many US commentators agree, but many Europeans do not. To be sure, even as determined an adversary of the war as Schröder thinks it more polite to speak of common goals. He has said, however, that he is ready to argue over means. It was at Worms, near Mainz, that Luther defied the Catholic Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire with the phrase, “Here I stand.” Schröder is Protestant enough to remind the US President that world politics is not a matter of atmosphere or gesture but of substance. Indeed, Bush will already have heard from Chirac and others in Brussels that most of Europe can neither be commanded nor cajoled into obedience. Even the usually acquiescent British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has found his own voice on a matter repugnant to Bush–international measures to combat global warming. Europe’s differences with the United States are magnified by Bush’s unilateralism, but fundamentally they are consequences of Europe’s sense of its present place in history. About that, Bush’s official and unofficial advisers have taught him practically nothing. What does he need to learn?
We can begin by looking beneath the surface of Europe’s troubles, even torments, with its great experiment, the European Union. Originally intended to defend Western Europe’s autonomy against the two superpowers, the EU has been altered immensely by the opening and incorporation of Central and Eastern Europe. The original six members have been expanded to twenty-five, and the union is about to begin negotiations with Turkey. The Europeans are unable to agree on what the expanded EU should become–a federal state, a larger economic union, an alliance to defend culture and territory, an engaged force in the world or a defensive moat against it. They have written a new constitution, in which major decisions will be taken by vote of separate national governments, leaving the directly elected European Parliament where it is now, exceedingly vocal but relatively powerless.
Europe’s political elites argue that only by uniting can Europe deal with the United States and the rest of the world. However, they continue to defend national interests in the EU’s budgetary and legislative bargaining. When Europeans vote for their representatives in the European Parliament, they frequently express domestic grievances, and participation in European elections is far lower than in national ones. European publics agree with the elites: They want an effective EU, but they think (rightly) that European institutions are remote and that the proposed changes will not improve matters.