Europe is full of "quiet anti-Americans", as Graham Greene might have put it. People who cannot distinguish disagreement with some of the administration’s choices from friendship for the United States.
America teems with "agitated anti-Europeans." The people who were irritated by France’s opposition to the war in Iraq and decided to change the name of their fried potato strips from "French fries" to "Freedom fries".
So what’s new? Well, these attitudes are not becoming entrenched. In fact, they’re weakening. Is it because of the dramatic aftermath of the war in Iraq? Yes, but not just that. More and more people, on both shores of the Atlantic, are realizing that you can’t turn an quarrel into a divorce. That is, you can, but it’s silly
In this context, I’d like to tell you about a meeting that opens tomorrow in Rome. The title sets the agenda, "Relaunching the Transatlantic Partnership – Common Goals and Shared Values." The usual conference rhetoric? But wait a moment. The meeting is organized by the Aspen Institute Italia and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the stronghold of those American "neocons" who have supplied the Bush administration with an abundant ideological arsenal (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took care of the real one).
Are they coming to say they’re sorry? Of course not. Are they going to demand obedience? I hope not. They are coming to understand and make themselves understood. And that is a huge step forward, believe me. Many things have changed in the U.S. since George W. Bush landed on that aircraft carrier under a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished!" (when it was anything but accomplished). Many people in the United States now realize that they need allies. And old Europe – with all her failings and mischief makers – is America’s natural, strategic ally. Many of the other friendships, commercial or military, are mere tactical expedients.
How can I prove this? I have read some interesting declarations, like the one by Danielle Pletka, vice president of the AEI and certainly no dove. "America does not view Europe as a competitor. If it did, then the U.S. would not constantly encourage the Europeans to build up their military. The United States needs its allies. American criticism of Europe reflects the depth of transatlantic relationship, not its weakness." That’s intriguing, Danielle. I’ll be asking you tomorrow if you would have used the same words ten months ago.
It is equally intriguing, and perhaps more persuasive, to observe a city like Rome. Note how relaxed our American guests are. I don’t know if Rome for them is a memory, a regret, or a hint of nostalgia. But I do know they feel at ease with us Europeans. Perhaps, when the ethnic mix of the United States is more Asian-heavy, things will be different. But this is how things are today.
So, is everything OK? Have the violent rows and fierce fits of pique ended amicably over "wine and tarallucci biscuits". No. And not just because it’s hard to find an equivalent expression in English. The meeting has to be an opportunity to recite a collective mea culpa (very Catholic, I know, but we are in Rome). Charles Grant, from the Center for European Reform, has jotted down 14 proposals (acts of contrition?). Here they are.
Good resolutions for the Americans:
1) Be aware that unilateral actions carry costs.
2) Remember that the style of your diplomacy affects outcomes.
3) Use the reconstruction of Iraq as an opportunity to revive transatlantic cooperation.
4) Be even-handed in the Middle East.
5) Don’t jiggle the knife in the wound between "new" and "old" Europe.
Good resolutions for us Europeans:
1) Adopt new economic policies to encourage higher growth.
2) Enhance your military capabilities.
3) Overhaul the institutions of your foreign policy.
4) Stabilize the "arc of instability" that runs around your eastern and southern flanks.
5) Work to overcome the divisions between "new" and "old" Europe.
Good resolutions for everyone:
1) Insulate the global economy from arguments on security issues.
2) Work out a common approach to Iran.
3) Reach an understanding on weapons of mass destruction.
4) Discuss the principles of intervention.
There’s nothing more to add, just a conference to attend. For once, a truly intriguing one.
English translation by Giles Watson