EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
This week president George W Bush travels across Europe to rebuild the friendship between
Americans and Europeans. It is an old friendship that has guaranteed the security and freedom
for the people on both sides of the Atlantic, and we in Europe in particular would have suffered
a lot worse were it not for this friendship. Despite this the relations have been very tense of late,
after a lot of disagreements culminating over the Iraq war.
The United States helped save Europe from the terrors of both nazism and communism, and though the
memories of these great evils are starting to fade in Europe, many still feel a great gratitude for
it. But many are also tired of feeling gratitude to America, and since the fall of communism in Europe
many countries, led by France, have sought different alliances to - as they see it - break free. This, of
course, is worse than unfortunate. Because freedom and democracy are not just nice things to have, but
fundamental things that we need and that everyone should have the right to, there are no better friends
than the United States.
Instead, during build-up to the Iraq war, Europe distanced itself from America - not just by disagreeing
on the issue, which will always happen now and then - but by using a rhetoric that painted out America
as the great threat to the world. Friends are needed, though, and Europe (as ever, led by France and their
lapdog Germany) started to look to the big man in the east, Russian president Vladimir Putin (nowadays
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's best pal). However, over the last year, as president Putin has shown his
authoritarian face more than before, this new friendship has grown increasingly difficult. Turn back to
America? Not quite yet, says president Jaques Chirac. Instead he, and Europe, has chosen to look further
to the east, to China.
But China is not exactly a great choice for a partner either - at least not if you claim to like democracy and
human rights - something Europeans say they do, and certainly do at home. Should Europe continue to try and buy
China's friendship (by dropping the ban on arms sales for instance) the world would rather quickly turn into
a nastier place.
America it is then, and it is not something to be sad about. Therefore it is good that serious attempts are made
to warm things up again. But will it work? I'm not so sure. It is true that we share a lot of values, and it is
also true that a strong Western alliance of democracies is the most important guarantee for freedom. But even so,
a lot of fundamental ideas seem to differ between us. Not between everyone, of course - there are many Americans
(in particular in the American left) that share the European view, and there are also many Europeans (like myself)
who share the American view. But the important governments aren't likely to change (that is the American and French
governments), Thankfully, in one case, and unfortunatly in the other.
As the Economist points out
there is a difference in the view of democracy. Both Europe and the United States finds democracy utterly
important. But while the Americans think - and I agree - that a real pro democracy standpoint means that tyranny
is always unacceptable, Europeans seem to disagree. At least, democracy isn't the first priority.
To free the world Americans - correctly - find democracy to be the decisive question. Bring on democracy and a
transformation will start to happen that will bring essential improvements to the other areas, taking away
poverty and other things. Not at once, but over time. Europeans on the other hand, believe that poverty is the
fundamental problem - not lack of democracy. Bring people out of poverty and democracy will follow. History seems
to suggest that this is wrong. While perfect democracy is not necessarily needed to lift people from poverty, a
fundamental protection of individual rights is, and such a protection usually follows democracy.
The alliance can be saved of course, but a lot of work will have to be done to keep it alive. We need not, and perhaps
should not, agree on every issue, but we need to share the healthy ideal of individual freedom and the equal rights
of every person living in this world - not matter whether they happen to live in Paris, New York or in Teheran. If
we can do that, we should be alright.
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