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Visions and counter-visions, or on the fundamental contradictions of the transatlantic relation

Külügyi Szemle 2003/4 - 01 décembre, 2003
Analyse and essay
Hajnalka Vincze

European-American structural tensions – breeding for decades and becoming acute with the end of the bipolar era – were merely brought onto surface by the Iraq crisis. Beyond the official pseudo-vision and occasional visions represented by German hesitations, the two genuine, concurring visions about Europe, transatlantic relations and the international order are advocated respectively by the British and the French.

There is consensus with regard to recognizing partnership with the United States as of crucial importance; to trying to maintain and – preferably on the basis of reciprocity – enhance this partnership; as well as to promote multilateral, international responses when dealing with challenges. However, as for the most effective way to attain these common goals, London and Paris suggest diametrically opposed solutions. Great Britain, in line with her traditional attitude, is convinced that the best way to steer the sole remaining hyperpower towards a direction in conformity with European priorities and influence its decisions (mostly to get these latter more “multilateralized”) is to tie herself as closely as possible – to the point of subordinating herself – to Washington as its most reliable ally. On the other hand, that French position claims that the United States can only be influenced by an ally which possesses the ability to decide and act on his own, and is therefore able to offer a credible alternative to the international community. The current situation is all the more piquant since on both sides of the Channel it has become commonly recognized that London, just like Paris, can only hope for her concept to “win” if it is implemented through unified European action. This is because neither of them has the “critical mass” (not even within coalitions organized on an ad hoc basis) to exert – in the way of her choice – significant influence on the course of events. And this leads us to the divergences of visions about the content and the political-institutional configuration of the integration. Whereas Great Britain hopes that her own diluted, and inseparably US-linked “supermarket Europe” concept is to succeed after the enlargement, France, for her part, is determined to find a way to implement its own concept of “Europe puissance” (first in a smaller circle of Member States ready and willing to commit themselves for deeper integration)”. As for the concepts of unipolar and multipolar world – which are behind the above-mentioned two visions – it is worth to take a closer look to the “self-refuting mystifications” advocated by the proponents of the transatlantic unipole. The hollowness of slogans such as “natural solidarity”, “balanced partnership” and “common values and interests” is demonstrated by a series of examples again and again. In visions of multipolarity, it is the role of Europe, as a “potential (counter)-weight”, which would ensure the generally beneficial functioning of the principle of “checks and balances”. Debates on whether Washington’s unilateral tendencies stem from structural imbalances or depend on particular administrations, are “absolutely useless when considering the essence of the issue”. The establishment of an autonomous Europe – capable of deciding and acting on her own and offering a viable alternative – is necessary as an “ultimate insurance” (against the contingencies of fate or of the Florida voting machines) even if one believes in the rather dubious thesis that the source of all problems is to be found in the trespasses of the current, neoconservative administration. It is also to be reminded that “in the above-mentioned visions of Europe puissance, the need for multipolarity – and for transforming Europe (the most successful example of multilateralism so far) into a power centre – is not merely a goal on its own (namely by re-balancing to some extent the excessively unbalanced international relations). This is also viewed as a prerequisite for genuine multilateralism, based on mutual respect.

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relations transatlantiques, france, royaume-uni, allemagne


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