The long view of Transatlantic ties

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Europe and the United States must look beyond the economy and narrative of decline and advance the longer view of history, seeing difficult times as opportunities, writes European Parliament Martin Schulz, in an exclusive opinion for EURACTIV.

Martin Schulz is president of the European Parliament. Schulz is traveling to Washington this week, where he is meeting Vice President Joe Biden and other top officials.

"Twentieth century Europe furnished the theatre for among humanity's most terrible tragedies. The devastating European wars that scarred the first half of the twentieth century and the Cold War that disfigured the second led the US to see the European continent as the main frontier for its national security.

For Europeans too, it seemed natural that the relationship with the United States should be nurtured given the political, cultural and economic affinity and, indeed, common interests.

Yet, in a world of shifting and diffused power, the self-evidence of the transatlantic bond seems to fade.

As a new generation of Europeans emerges and the US undergoes important demographic changes, fewer and fewer Americans and Europeans recall the horrors of the Second World War or the remarkable and US-assisted European rebirth.

Even the Cold War, which ended over 20 years ago, has little political resonance today.

A reinvigorated long view of our relationship will not derive from such immediate and explicit threats but should be based on an appraisal and recognition of our shared legacy: present and future. We must continue to consciously and carefully re-infuse meaning and purpose into this vital global relationship.

The 21st century is said to be that of the Pacific, of a rising and risen China and of a declining and declined West.

We read every day of our common failure to stop bloodshed in the Middle East, of the growing status but uncertain future of China, and of the ongoing eurozone crisis.

While the profound hardship and conflict caused by Europe's economic and fiscal uncertainty have attracted enormous attention in America, the current situation represents a difficult step on the path to greater fiscal, economic, and political integration.

We must look beyond this crisis and narrative of decline. We need to look at the longer view of history, which allows us to see difficult times as opportunities.

The need for decisive action is what dominates life in both the US Congress and the European Parliament. The bipartisan efforts to avoid the “fiscal cliff” are America’s version of our own attempts in Europe to urgently get a grip on the economic situation: ending recession and restoring growth, creating new jobs and fostering competitiveness, curbing public debt and healing our internal rifts. These are common problems requiring common responses.

The relative lack of in-depth discussion of US-European relations would surely surprise most 20th century readers. It should surprise us, too. The shared cultural heritage and liberal democratic values of Europe and the US relate to a broader agenda as well as to our core, pragmatic interests. Going forward, both the US and EU must look to each other on a range of issues that unilateral action cannot adequately address.

During President Barack Obama's second term and prior to the EU's institutional leadership change in mid-2014, the European Parliament looks forward to the development of the Transatlantic Free Trade Area, a complex but vital step toward enhanced innovation, competitiveness, and stability across the Atlantic. In this process, the Transatlantic Legislators' Dialogue, convening from 30 November to 1 December in Washington, is crucial.

Furthering our strong traditions of human rights and democracy promotion will be crucial. We in the EU are now establishing a European Endowment for Democracy modelled partly on the National Endowment for Democracy. This comes after a reinvigoration of the EU human rights policy, adopted as a core foreign policy component driven forward by the European Parliament.

The success of recent EU and US coordination of sanctions against Iran, the European Parliament and US congressional outcry on the Sergei Magnitsky case, EU-US joint action in the Balkans and Ukraine and successive visits by President Obama and a European Parliament delegation to Burma all signal both the shared willingness and capacity to confront urgent global challenges to human rights and democracy.

Increased investment in new energy sources to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and cutting carbon emissions is of common interest not just to both the EU and US, but indeed to the entire globe.  

In a world of interweaving polarities, there are no purely bilateral relationships. The US increasingly looks toward Pacific Asia, but will also continue to engage in North Africa and the Middle East, which are on Europe's doorstep. Our actions should reinforce each other's towards the long view of our transatlantic ties."

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