The transatlantic relationship: a dialogue based on law.

Article published on Feb. 19, 2003
community published
Article published on Feb. 19, 2003

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Extracts from the closing speech by Mme Noelle Lenoir' (French Minister with special responsibility for European Affairs) at the symposium on "The Future of the European Institutions and the Transatlantic Relationship" organised by the Robert Schuman foundation and the University of Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne on Friday 17th January 2003.

We are currently living through a paradox. It is at the very moment when the values of liberalism and democracy, so dear to our American friends, are finally triumphing across Europe that the two continents seem to be on bad terms. My aim is to show that, in this world of uncertainties and global perils, peace and stability can only be created through a multipolar balance. This is an approach that, far from bringing American and European interests into conflict with one another, will, in fact, bring them closer together in the search for acceptance of differing views.


The same fairies of the philosophy of the Enlightenment and Human Rights bent over the cradles of the democracies of Europe and America. (...) A key principle is (...) the pre-eminence of law. This principle, which, across the Atlantic, has given considerable power to the judge, is at the heart of the heritage of European values such as the preamble to the European Convention on Human Rights from 1950. When Communism collapsed in 1989, it was these values that imposed themselves on the rubble of the Soviet Union. And in 1993 when the conditions welcoming the countries from the Soviet bloc of central and oriental Europe into the EU were decided, it was to these values - known as the Copenhagen political criteria - that the member states of the EU almost spontaneously referred. In agreement on the values that form the basis of our democracies, we are then, Americans and Europeans, in harmony with regard to the essentials. That being the case, why are we ensnared in this position of reciprocal recriminations, as Philip Gordon underlined in a recent article? (...)

Eminent political experts - such as Francis Fukuyama, Charles Krauthammer or Robert Kagan - have recently emphasised that the cultural and structural base of the Atlantic alliance might be in the process of disintegrating. Is not our difference of opinion, under the very nose of the public and media, over the Kyoto protocol and the ways to better protect our precious planet, one of the signs of this? (...) These differences of opinion are not, in my eyes, sufficient reason to open the page on the forecast decline of the transatlantic relationship. (...)

Made by revulsion and fascination, sometimes of mockery and sometimes of admiration, this relationship has the passionate character of a relationship between nations who are very close and yet, at the same time, different because they share neither the same history, nor the same political experience. In this way, in the US the notion of 'big government' is as discredited as (...) the disengagement of the State from a certain number of social responsibilities is contested in Europe. (...)


So, from the same values American and European people remain divided through their dread of the social and geopolitical reality of the world. Hence the quarrels, hence the differences of opinion. What is the solution? It cannot be in the standardisation of cultures by one continent to another; it is through law, the only peaceful and reasoned way to resolve our differences of opinion. Contrary to what brilliant minds have been able to write, law and justice are not only the weapons of the weakest. They safeguard the rules of the game, without which no social organisation or world order is possible. It is, moreover, from this base that the US and European countries have each built their own political and social systems, designed to protect citizens from possible abuses by the central power. (...)

It is this process, both pragmatic and legal, that must govern the transatlantic relationship, as there is no reason that Europe and America, given that they share the same values, will not manage to transcend their rivalry while accepting differing views. Let us consider, in particular, the question of climatic changes or GMOs. Would it be acceptable not to be able to reach an agreement on the Kyoto protocol on climate or on Carthergene relating to biodiversity? I do not think so. Americans and Europeans, we have a joint responsibility to sort out the big issues that concern the future of our planet. (...)


Besides the well-running of the markets and the economy, and indeed of world health, other challenges await us. These are world peace and security. To face them, America cannot act alone. (...) It is neither in its interests, nor in the interests of collective security.(...) [We must] approach the question of a European foreign and security policy as a factor of stability not only in Europe but also throughout the world.(...)

After the institutionalisation of the CFSP by the Maastrich treaty, the second act of European diplomacy was the personalisation of this policy [Ed: through the high representative for the CFSP]. (...) The time has come for the third act.

The Franco-German contribution to the Convention (...) on the institutional architecture of an enlarged Europe shows France and Germany's concern about consolidating the European institutions by reinforcing their legitimacy and increasing their stability. (...) [The] objective is to provide Europe with the means to assume her responsibilities in the world: by having a more stable President of the European Council, charged with representing the Union on the international scene at meetings of Heads of State or Governments; by having a European Minister for Foreign Affairs who combines the functions of the High Representative for the CFSP and the Commissioner for Foreign Relations, and who is responsible before the European Council. We are even proposing (...) to make the resort to qualified majority voting in matters of foreign policy more widespread (in return for safeguarding clauses). We are well aware of the necessity of avoiding 'blocks' which risk becoming permanent in a Europe of 25. European diplomacy, nevertheless, does not simply boil down to making Europe's voice heard on an international scale. It presupposes military capability. Contrary to what is sometimes insinuated, an autonomous Europe, while in a position to contribute to the security and stability of the world, is not trying to out do America in terms of power. Moreover, our American partners are much more inclined to criticise - and understandably so - the inadequacies of European military capabilities than fear any European military opposition power.

The first requirement is to be able to face up to the menaces of the present time which are global and yet masked, as much state controlled as not. (...) This reality must drive us to extend the missions of the defence of the European Union. (...) This is why France is proposing to insert into the future Constitution a clause of common solidarity and security. The second requirement of European defence is to make provisions for tighter co-operation between member states who accept committing themselves while others do not desire it. (...) The third requirement is to develop European capabilities in the field of armaments.

By providing itself with diplomacy and its consequence, military capability, Europe does not claim to substitute its great American ally. It intends to put itself at a level on which it can put all its weight behind international stability.


Such a vision, obviously, is not shared by everyone. (...) Let's leave stereotypes to one side and discuss the facts. With regard to Iraq, we, Europeans and Americans, are all in agreement (...) to work determinedly within the framework of the UN Security Council. (...) There is no more appropriate framework to resolve crises across international law. (...) Let's also use regional organisations: the transatlantic dialogue institutionalised at the heart of the European Union; OCED; OSCE. Finally, let us use NATO. The organisation has been searching for an identity since the end of the Cold War. (...) The Prague Summit (...) has, in the meantime, refuted the pessimistic scenarios. A lot of countries - in the east of Europe - continue, in effect, to see NATO as a gage of their security and a link with the great American partner. The way is now open for the necessary adaptation of the structure of the Organisation in the new context of security in order to establish the role of unity in NATO between America and Europe, its role as an expression of transatlantic solidarity. (...)

Without the transatlantic relationship, the world would be worse off. With their common values and interests finally often converging, the two continents have the authority to offer a model of democracy that has as yet no equivalent. Through a winding path the recent works on the subject by Emmanuel Todd (1) and Jean-Francois Revel (2) arrive at the same conclusion. Emmanuel Todd, with his tendency to force the issue, sees in America a "unilateralist, narcissistic, troubled, aggressive" power and calls on Europeans to construct a power capable of holding them back. Jean-Francois Revel, in contrast, underlines that this American unilateralism is 'the consequence and not the cause' of the incapacity of other stated powers - Europe most notably - to contribute usefully to the resolution of global crises.

I am more convinced by the second of these analyses than by the first. But I retain the idea, common to the two authors, of the necessary reinforcement of Europe as an actor on the international stage. (...)

(1) After the Empire: an essay on the decomposition of the American system, Gallimard, 2002

(2) The Anti-American Obsession, Plon, 2002