The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Just how wide is that rift?

Dr Helen Szamuely

A large number of words has been expanded on the Transatlantic Rift, which seems to have acquired almost a constitutional existence of its own and should, therefore, be written with capital letters. The latest addition is an article on the front page of the European Voice, entitled sombrely: EU-US relations 'worst for 60 years' says former envoy. Sixty years? How did sixty years get into this? 1943, unless my maths is completely wrong, was the middle of the Second World War, with no EU anywhere except as a gleam in Jean Monnet's eye, most of Europe overrun by Nazi Germany and the only transatlantic relationship possible between the USA and the United Kingdom. (Canada, being a Dominion, was part of the great Empire and Commonwealth war effort.) Those relations were not always smooth even then. As for relations with representatives of the conquered countries, the situation was rather muddled. General de Gaulle was distrusted and disliked by the Americans and wearily suffered by Churchill. Other governments in exile were barely regarded. Some of them, from Eastern Europe were soon to be betrayed to Stalin, who was already salivating at the thought.

Who is this envoy, one asks oneself? He is Stuart Eizenstat, the former US ambassador to the EU, in itself a dubious post, since the EU is not at present a fully formed state. Presumably, there are US ambassadors to all the Member States. What does the ambassador to the EU do? Reading further, one finds that the former ambassador has expressed distinctly undiplomatic views and has been musing on the need for President Bush to listen less to the neo-conservatives like Donald Rumsfeld and more to the apparently touchy-feely Colin Powell. (As it happens the analysis of what is a neo-conservative in the US is inaccurate and Secretary Powell is not all that touchy-feely. As a former military officer he tends to be less anxious to go to war and that has confused the EU nomenclatura into thinking that he will never go to war, even when that is, unfortunately, the better alternative.) Mr Eizenstat is a paid up member of the Democratic Party. The American habit of treating ambassadorial appointments as political ones is confusing to most British and European writers. Even in the days when certain embassies - notably the one in Washington - were reserved for political appointments, few of the latter involved themselves in party political bickering. In other words, the "former envoy" is a politician and an opposition one at that. His musings on what President Bush should and should not do is of little importance.

However, in his interview with the European Voice he did raise some important matters and discussed with some accuracy the problems between America and Europe. Unfortunately, he, too, has accepted the inaccuracy that there is one European opinion and the Europe and the EU are one and the same. The United States may have had relations and agreements with the European Coal and Steel Community but its diplomatic relations fifty, forty, thirty and not that many years ago was with individual countries. And how bad are those now, precisely? President Bush's visit to the UK was very successful, despite the demonstrations and the ludicrous toppling of the papier mâché statue in Trafalgar Square - an insult, incidentally, to the people of Iraq and all those who have fought and continue to fight bloody dictatorships. Relationship with various other Member States and the incoming former Communist ones seems to be quite good. So we are left with the same conclusion: Mr Eizenstat, gleefully quoted by the European Voice seems to assume that problems between the United States and the Franco-German axis is tantamount to a huge transatlantic split. (Just how good were the relations between the United States and Germany sixty years ago?)

Yet the former envoy also said some other things, quoted towards the end of the article. He pointed out that Europeans did not appreciate the effect 9/11 had on Americans. This is true to an extent Mr Eizenstat may not even realize. Not only many Europeans find it difficult to understand the shock Americans experienced that day, they cannot grasp that American reaction to the events is to do something about it. It is a very long time since Europeans of the kind Mr Eizenstat seems to have associated with had any sort of a reaction except to call a meeting, set up a committee, appoint watchdogs and open up a dialogue.

Not only many Europeans find it difficult to understand the shock Americans experienced that day, they cannot grasp that American reaction to the events is to do something about it... It is a very long time since Europeans had any sort of a reaction except to call a meeting, set up a committee, appoint watchdogs and open up a dialogue.

One can say also that Americans seem to find it difficult to understand Europe and its problems. The mere fact that so many American officials talk about a "European problem" or "relations with Europe" or "European opinion" indicates a certain distance from the reality of a much more complicated picture. On top of which, many of us can complain justifiably that America showed remarkable lack of understanding or concern with our problems with terrorists. This is particularly true of what Mr Eizenstat seems to consider to be the golden age of transatlantic relations under President Clinton.

What else did Mr Eizenstat say? He seems to have grasped that "Europe is now flexing its muscles on the political scene and beginning to do that in the military sphere." But apparently "[t]his was never an issue" when he was here, which is a little worrying. How could the US ambassador to the EU miss the fact that the EU (not Europe) was trying to flex its muscles, usually in opposition to the US and, if possible, in subversion of the Western alliance? What was he doing all this time? Still, he is right, the muscle-flexing is going on. Unfortunately, it reminds one of the famous scene in the Marx Brothers' film Horsefeathers when Chico encourages Harpo to "get tuff" and to "get tuffer", watching with approval and Harpo crosses his eyes and puffs himself up in his inimitable way. What muscle, precisely? The agreement arrived at on 1st December to set up a scaled-down headquarters and develop a separate EU military capabilities may well irritate Secretary Powell (though Mr Eizenstat's bête noire Donald Rumsfeld seems remarkbaly unflustered by it) but it is little more than the usual European or EU response to all problems: set up the structures and the rest will follow. In this case the rest requires a great deal of money for military power. Otherwise, Europeans will end up yet again, behaving like teenagers who shout abuse and defy their parents only to ask rather sulkily if they could, please, have the car that evening.

The usual European or EU response to all problems: set up the structures and the rest will follow.

What, one would like to know, all this separate military entity for? Apparently European defence is still vested in NATO. What is the new defence structure be doing apart from deciding how to give orders in eleven (soon to rise to twenty) different languages? The Treaty of Amsterdam, which specified that the new defence capability will be used to further the common foreign and security policy. This is still a bit of non-starter. A common foreign policy implies, as we have said before, some common interests. Where are these to come from? Ah yes, say the proponents of the European force, we do have interests: these are to promote democracy, human rights, civic solidarity and all the rest of what is rather laughably and inaccurately known as "European values". Strangely enough, these seem to be the aims of the Bush administration in Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia and precious little support it gets from the high panjandrums of European integration. Instead, Chancellor Schröder appears to have voiced some of what his particular concern for "European values" may signify. While on a state visit to China he announced that just as Germany was finally reunited so China should be one country as well. Germany, for one, will not send any sensitive technology to Taiwan. This is, I take it, the same Germany that had no problems whatsoever with sending sensitive technology to Iraq or any other bloody dictatorship. Nor does it have any problems with doing the same with China, that mainstay of "European values". Parallels between China and Germany are not entirely accurate. The latter reunited as a democracy. China, an old-fashioned Communist tyranny, on the other hand, views unification as a chance to swallow up a moderately democratic Taiwan. Is this how Europe should be "flexing its political muscle" in the world?