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Rediscovering the West

Transatlantic disputes are multiplying at the very moment that Europe's Constitutional Convention begins to debate a joint EU foreign policy. Ralf Dahrendorf thinks that both sides of the Atlantic need to look beyond the trivial and rediscover the common interests and values of the West.

Hardly a week goes by without some addition to the already long list of European-American gripes and irritants. One week it is the UN Security Council vote about a continued US presence in the Bosnia peacekeeping mission. Before that the setting up of the International Criminal Court without American participation set both sides on edge, and the question of whether the Palestinians should be told whom not to elect as their leader. Israel and the Palestinians remain a subject of profound Europe-US disagreements, as are issues surrounding the environment and the idea of sustainable development. Add to these US trade sanctions, America's latest Farm Bill, and of course the whole question of alleged or real US unilateralism.

Fortunately, such spats are not the whole truth. American unilateralism is in fact a form of "multilateralism à la carte". Where it suits American interests, international institutions are happily used, and they usually serve European interests. Also one must never forget that we are talking about democracies. In the US, as in Europe, there are many different views about Bosnia, about Arafat, even about protecting farmers. After all, not every American voted for President Bush, nor is every European a Eurofederalist.

Still, when representatives of the US and the EU meet for formal consultations, they arrive at the table with different perceptions. US participants represent a country at war in which energies are concentrated on defeating the enemy, "terrorism," whether of the Al Queda or Iraqi variety.