It's time for another transatlantic summit, and this one, set for Washington on April 30, will have a lot in common with previous EU-US bilaterals: It will be rather short on substance. Indeed, transatlantic summits rarely meet their potential, largely because Europe and the United States are a house divided, unable (or unwilling) to agree on how to respond to the most pressing problems of the age.
European negotiators, for their part, have proffered an image of collective unity by presenting their American interlocutors with a long list of us-versus-them demands: American acceptance of a transatlantic market 'without barriers'; American agreement to lift visa restrictions on all EU citizens; American concessions on a deal to share airline passenger data; and, of course, American acquiescence to rigid caps on greenhouse gas emissions.
But Americans know that the 27 nations that comprise the European Union are not at all of one mind on most issues. Indeed, US President George W Bush is likely to ask his guests, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, representing the current six-month EU presidency, and European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso, to keep it real.
And the reality is that the White House won't be signing on to any major Brusselian crusade against global warming until Europeans get serious about confronting global terrorism; Bush knows that if Europe and the United States cannot work together to contain Islamic extremism, global warming will, for all intents and purposes, be beside the point.
In many ways, the current configuration of political power in Europe favors transatlantic problem-solving. Both Merkel and Barroso, committed Atlanticists, are ascendant, while openly anti-American leaders, like Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Italian Prime Minister Romani Prodi, have been largely discredited at home and abroad. A dose of realism also seems to have seeped into European public opinion: According to an April 27 survey published by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a majority of Europeans and Americans support closer transatlantic cooperation.
The problem, however, is that on the greatest threat faced by both sides of the Atlantic, namely the challenge posed by Islamic extremism, Europeans remain conspicuously unhelpful. Indeed, if anything exemplifies the idea of European unity, it is their collective refusal to acknowledge and defend against threats to their own way of life.
In many ways, Merkel's Germany epitomizes European escapism. For example, according to a recent poll, Germans believe that the United States is the greatest threat to global peace. Never mind that it is Iran, not the United States, which desires to point nuclear weapons at Germany. As if that were not enough, German officials have taken the lead in criticizing American plans to build an anti-missile system that is designed to protect Germany, not the United States, from Iranian missiles.
Meanwhile, Stern Magazine, the German newsweekly, ran an incredible story noting that many Germans did not want their government to deploy a total of six Tornado fighter planes to help NATO allies in Afghanistan out of concerns that exhaust from the jet engines would contribute to global warming! Indeed, with most EU countries refusing to offer even token support in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is hard to see why Bush would want to spend political capital by agreeing to potentially painful concessions on European priorities.
The Kyoto Gospel on Global Warming
Europeans, meanwhile, will want to divert attention away from their post-modern equivocation vis-à-vis the pre-modern Islamists who are trying to take over their continent. As post-Christian converts to the cult of global warming, expect them instead to claim the moral high ground by blaming the United States for its continued doubts about the usefulness of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change.
Europeans now want the United States to match a new European commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020. They say this is needed to keep global temperature increases below two degrees. But American officials are skeptical about European compliance with their original Kyoto commitments, which requires them to reduce emissions to 8% below 1990 levels by 2008.
In fact, many analysts suspect that in practice Europe has not achieved any overall reductions in emissions. Indeed, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, from 2000-2004-the most recent period for which comparative data are available-collective greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-25 increased by 2.1 percent, compared with 1.3% in the United States. And in Spain, for example, greenhouse gas emissions have actually increased by 40% since 1990.
In any case, the White House says there should be no commitment to binding targets unless fast-growing developing countries follow suit. Indeed, the United States argues that climate change cannot be effectively addressed without China, which according to the International Energy Agency may become the world's greatest emitter of greenhouse gases before the end of 2007, and whose emissions will by 2030 be growing twice as fast as emissions from all of the OECD countries combined.
And what is the anticipated cost of complying with Kyoto? According to the best estimates available, those compiled by William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer of Yale University, the United States could expect to pay a staggering $325 billion, enough to convince many Americans that the benefits of the agreement do not justify its costs. By comparison, the cost to the rest of the world combined would be less than $400 billion, because the United States would bear most of the aggregate costs. Americans can be excused for doubting Kyoto's basic fairness.
Transatlantic Trade Relations Are Vibrant
Despite transatlantic religious differences over global warming and radical Islam, transatlantic devotion to Mammon is alive and well. Indeed, the combined $2.5 trillion economies of Europe and the United States form the strongest, most interdependent economic partnership in the world. Bilateral trade between the European Union and the United States accounts for 40% of all global trade, and combined bilateral GDP accounts for 60% of world output.
And as a major step toward unlocking even more economic potential, the Washington Summit will mark the signing of a new transatlantic economic treaty that will remove barriers to free trade in a number of strategically important sectors, a move economists say could pump billions of dollars into the transatlantic economy. The two sides will also sign a deal known as 'Open Skies' that will open up restricted transatlantic routes to new rivals and could generate some $15 billion in economic benefits.
These initiatives are, however, a far cry from Merkel's original vision for a full-blown transatlantic free trade agreement (TAFTA), which would see the United States and European Union merge into a single trans-Atlantic common market. Some analysts had hoped that the TAFTA, which would harmonize intellectual property rights, environmental and technical standards and trade security, would be in place by 2015.
Unfortunately for Merkel, the road to TAFTA leads through Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, the quid pro quo for American support for TAFTA involves a significantly increased European commitment to transatlantic defense. And that's a price Europeans are unable or unwilling to pay.