The New Transatlantic Stalemate

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Barack Obama’s recent European tour hints that the Illinois senator is Europe’s choice to be America’s next president. But Europeans should not expect too much. While Obama would likely restore civility and politeness to transatlantic discourse, the sources of friction are more profound. The geo-political interests of Europe and America have been drawing apart, and may well continue to do so, no matter who is president.

Halting this progressive alienation will require major changes in outlook and policy on both sides of the Atlantic. The United States will have to stop defining its transatlantic interests in terms of its hegemonic mindset, and Europe will have to take fuller charge of its own region.

To call interests “geopolitical” underscores the influence of geography in shaping those interests. As Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill once famously agreed: “When all is said and done, Great Britain is an island, France the cape of a continent; America another world.” Both understood that for centuries the English Channel has been a formidable geopolitical barrier to a durable sharing of interests between Britain and France. If the Channel has been such a barrier, durable bonds across the Atlantic seem implausible.

In other words, from this perspective, the world’s two richest and most powerful economic spaces, the European Union and the US, are bound to be rivals, even when they are allies.