Who Decides for Europe?

STEFANO RIZZO
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The European elections have certainly received the attention they deserve from the main American print and television media. Numerous articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other mainstream newspapers have noted the advance of the right across the continent, the stability of the center (popular and socialists), analyzed the possibilities for forming a parliamentary majority and what the other prospects are for the European institutions which will soon be renewed.

There was attention, but it was on the sidelines and often on the second or fourth page, after Hunter Biden’s conviction, Trump’s latest outburst, the echoes of the D-Day celebrations, Biden’s anti-immigration measures, the war in Gaza and Ukraine, and color articles. What has been missing in the reports by foreign correspondents and commentators at home is an analysis of the relations between the United States and the European Union: what they are and how they could change after this electoral round. The European elections were grouped together with the others which took place in the previous weeks in India, South Africa and Mexico. The American media gave due account of these, covering those in Europe with more or less the same importance.

The vote in France and Macron’s choice to call early elections, on the first of the New York Times

This may seem surprising if you consider that on the contrary, there is no significant political event in any European country that is not seen for the implications it has or could have on relations with the United States. Here, the results of the European elections in relation to American domestic and foreign policy have been commented on with a wealth of analysis: was it Trump who led the way in Europe or vice versa? Will the rise of the right weaken the pro-American Western front and to what extent, especially with respect to the war in Ukraine? What possibilities are there for building a common European foreign or defense policy distinct from NATO and American foreign policy? Etc., etc.

In contrast to this, in the United States (at least in the daily press and on the main television networks) no one is asking questions about relations with Europe following the recent elections, nor are they focusing on the strategic options that Europeans are asking themselves about (and will increasingly need to ask themselves). Certainly, the various issues are explored in depth with the usual expertise in think tanks and universities, but as far as the public that reads newspapers (therefore a relatively small and informed public) is concerned, United States-Europe relations are certainly not at the center of attention. They are even less an issue for the general public who don’t read newspapers.

The WP also highlights the French result and its political consequences

The reason is at once simple and culturally complex. There is also a starting date for this attitude in an episode narrated by the future US president Thomas Jefferson at the time he was ambassador to France (1785-1789). At an official dinner the French all sat on one side and the Americans on the other. The famous naturalist Buffon discussed the degenerative effects America’s cold, humid climates on people’s bodies and minds. Jefferson then proposed a toast and asked those present to stand: on one side of the long table they saw the tall, tanned and muscular Americans, and on the other the short, fat and powdered French. Buffon’s degenerative theory and with it European self-assurance suffered a very hard blow.

Since then this has been the paradigm with which Americans have looked at Europe: the place of origin, to be removed psychoanalytically, to be left behind, also to be pitied and helped in times of need, precisely because here they feel superior. Welcoming tens of millions of European immigrants, mostly dark-haired and ragged, remaining strictly extraneous to the periodic wars on the continent; pouring onto it, starting from the end of the nineteenth century, the immense wealth of its agriculture and the amazing inventions of its industry; then during the twentieth century defending Europe from itself and its totalitarian follies in the first and second world wars, with a modest contribution (modest compared to that of the Europeans) of soldiers and an immense contribution of armaments; and still defending it, for almost fifty years, from the communist threat with its atomic shield, its soldiers stationed throughout Europe, its fleets in all the oceans…

In light of their “generosity” and this underlying sense of superiority (cultural, military, democratic), Americans were very surprised and indignant when in 2003 many Europeans refused to support them in the invasion of Iraq. In retaliation, the ladies of Washington poured bottles of French wine into the waters of the Potomac and intellectuals such as Robert Kagan coined the formula according to which Europeans come from Venus and Americans from Mars, meaning that Europe is the place of peace, of well-being and the “dolce vita”, precisely thanks to the fact that the “Martian” (martial) America exists and defends it against external threats with weapons in hand (just like the good sheriff in western films), as well as guides it in foreign policy, preventing it from making bad choices out of naivety or recklessness.

The LAT, at the bottom of the page, speaks of “political earthquakes and the advance of the right”

t happened throughout the years of the Cold War. It happened again by convincing the Europeans that it was in their interest to expand to the liberated Eastern countries and admit them into NATO; it happened recently, when the United States had to intervene to curb Europeans’ infatuation with China and the New Silk Road, without (yet) managing to block the robust economic exchange. It happened above all with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about which the Europeans were initially hesitant, but thanks to the strong work of American persuasion (about which the Biden administration never ceases to boast, inserting it into the broader context of the struggle of democracies against totalitarianisms), now the Europeans are leading, if not in sending weapons, then in economic aid, and are increasingly inflexible with respect to Russian demands.

In summary: Americans have (almost) always seen Europeans as a junior partner, who can make a valid contribution on the international scene provided that they follow the American lead, while instead Europe constitutes an element of disturbance (but nothing more given its lack of military force) when it moves in another direction. This is the American point of view. But even the European one is not very different in substance (of course it is in words): after all, relying on the American atomic and conventional umbrella is not the worst solution. Promote a European defense? Ask the Poles and the Czechs what they think of German rearmament. A French atomic umbrella? Ask the Germans and all Europeans. The end of NATO? The fact is that the famous three objectives for its creation — keeping the Germans under, keeping Russia out, and keeping America in — are still valid, and Americans and Europeans know this well, even if they don’t say it in the same way.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of American interest in our European elections. A world power has more important things to worry about, like countering China, defeating Russia, bringing some peace to the Middle East. In short, ruling the world. Its military potential is immense, its economy is growing three times as much as Europe’s, and the strong dollar guarantees the “Martians” who come on holiday to Venus a ten percent discount compared to a year ago. There was a moment when the European economy seemed to worry the American one, but the financial crisis of 2009-2011, and above all the protectionism of the last decade, warded off the threat. Now the American economy is growing at a rate of 3.5 percent while the European one is stagnating at below one.

So, for the few Americans who are involved in foreign policy, all is well. There is no reason to waste too much time following what is happening in Europe. If Trump returns in a few months, he will be the one to decide what to do with NATO, Russia and the war in Ukraine – certainly not the Europeans.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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Who Decides for Europe? ultima modifica: 2024-06-12T17:30:52+02:00 da STEFANO RIZZO
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