Transatlantic Drift

BERLIN – On the banks of the Rhine and in Prague, NATO and the European Union will pay homage to the new American president in early April. There will be pretty pictures and lofty speeches on the future of the transatlantic relationship – in other words, business as usual.

But prior to the Strasbourg and Prague summits, transatlantic relations will be put to the test at the G-20 summit in London. Barack Obama’s election was meant to improve everything – or so it was hoped. The drift in transatlantic relations during the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency was meant to be stopped – and even reversed. That hope is fading, as the global economic crisis brings the differences between America and Europe to a head.

Of course, at the end of the London summit, the assembled leaders will agree on a joint statement, because nobody can afford failure. But differences will remain. The US wants to resolve the global crisis by providing substantially more financial help, which Europe is refusing to commit, preferring to focus on financial regulatory reform. In the end, a formulaic compromise will be found to include both in the statement.

The media will then praise their respective governments’ “courage” and “assertiveness,” and cast the outcome as “win on points.” But what will fall by the wayside is a forceful global response to the gravest crisis since 1929. For that battle, there is still no leadership in sight.