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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Why Europe feels left out in the cold
President George W Bush in Berlin in May
No longer a figure of fun, Mr Bush has riled Europeans

As world leaders gear up for the next G8 meeting in Canada, BBC News Online examines why Europeans are feeling increasingly isolated from the US.

How we love to hate the US. Admit it.

The Europeans are only too happy to snipe about America's commercialism, its lack of culture and of course George W Bush himself.

Since the US president won office in January 2001, he has been portrayed as naive, inexperienced and occasionally incapable of finishing his sentences.

Police arrest an anti-US protester during George W Bush's visit to Berlin in May
Protesters in Berlin objected to Bush's policies
The events of 11 September may have rehabilitated him as a serious politician, but Europe's age-old distrust of the US remains.

No longer a laughing stock, Mr Bush is now a focus of discontent across the Atlantic.

Ahead of his visit to Berlin in May, 10,000 protesters took to the streets, mostly to demonstrate against American foreign policy.

A sardonic Pascal Lamy, the EU trade commissioner, also noted recently that criticism of the US is greeted with applause in the European parliament these days.

They did it their way

Naturally, there is some resentment of the US' super-power status, but there are also good reasons for ill-feeling in Europe.

G8 members
United States
Moves by the US to withdraw from the Kyoto agreement, the international criminal court and the anti-ballistic missile treaty have been interpreted as unilateralist.

In particular, Mr Bush's "axis of evil" speech in January rankled with many on the Continent, who have sought a more conciliatory approach to so-called rogue states like Iran.

With the exception of the UK's Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Europeans are also reluctant to back Mr Bush's bellicose stance on Iraq's alleged development of weapons of mass destruction.

Trade wars

Tempers have flared again more recently over the US decision to impose tariffs of up to 30% on steel imports and to offer new subsidies to its farmers.

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick
Zoellick urges Europeans to see the big picture
"It is absolutely clear that the US has full resolve to take unilateralist trade action when its trade interests are at stake," says Gerald Walsh, economics director at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Anger in Europe over this latest trade dispute has raised fears that ongoing free-trade negotiations could be derailed.

Critics add that the US can hardly lecture the developing world on the benefits of free trade, having slapped tariffs on steel imports.

But Mr Walsh - and indeed US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick - insist that we need to look at the bigger picture.

"The US is still one of the most open economies in the world," says Mr Walsh.

During a speech in the Reichstag in Berlin earlier this month, Mr Zoellick also reminded his audience that "the average-weighted tariff for the US is now under 2%".

Trouble at the top

As far as the Americans are concerned, Europe has buried its head in the sand.

There was no sensitivity to the way the speech would play for a foreign audience

Ian Bremmer
Eurasia Group
Mr Zoellick told the Reichstag that the squabbles reflect "America's reassessment of its national interests in a changed world and Europe's conservatism in adjusting".

As leaders of the G8 meet in Canada to discuss global economic recovery and aid for Africa, will these quarrels have an impact?

"They can introduce tensions and complicate the process," says Mr Walsh.

"Up to date, they haven't compromised [G8 meetings] but... the steel tariffs have upset everyone, and the US farm bill has upset countries around the world.

"They could be building up to a critical mass."


Mr Bush also stands accused of using the tariffs to drum up votes in America's so-called Rust Belt.

President George W Bush in Berlin in May
Bush's style has grated with some Europeans
At least on this score, G8 leaders might be sympathetic.

"Every democratic leader is keenly aware of the domestic audience - this won't disrupt the meeting," says Dr Robert McGeehan at the Institute of United States Studies in London.

But it is Mr Bush's preoccupation with his audience at home that may have cost him his popularity overseas.

"Bush's unilateralism is less a departure from earlier presidents than a discomfort with the niceties of international diplomacy," says Ian Bremmer, president of the research firm, Eurasia Group, in New York.

He believes that few European policymakers would disagree with the substance of Mr Bush's State of the Union address, which coined the "axis of evil" phrase.

"But there was no sensitivity to the way the speech would play for a foreign audience," he adds.

Peace in our time?

Dr McGeehan acknowledges this, but argues that in recent months Washington has toned down its rhetoric.

"There is a high degree of realisation that we need each other. Increasingly, people in the Bush camp are not talking as bluntly as they were before."

It is unlikely that anti-Americanism will disappear overnight, but greater sensitivity from Washington could heal a few rifts.

Mr Bremmer is also confident that free-trade talks will not be scuppered by quarrels over tariffs.

"We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that shared interests on free trade continue to far outweigh disputes - and that should keep the agreements in tact."

Any decision-making at G8 would certainly benefit from the same far-sightedness.

We asked readers for their views, but the debate has now been closed.

Do you think the US takes enough account of European views in its foreign or trade policy?

I'm sorry that the US can't make everyone in the World happy. I'm a proud servicemen of the US Navy, and I've travelled to many third-world countries. I along with many US servicemen and women have contributed time and money into helping communities grow. I've spent many days in East Timor building houses for locals. I would gladly travel to any European country and offer you the same assistance. I wish everyone would spend less time crying about things you can't change at home, and maybe get off your couch and do something about it. I mean try to make a difference. We all need to do a little something. Oh, by the way I feel President Bush is a wonderful leader. Thanks!
Tommy, US

It is embarrassing to me, as an American, that most of our leaders and citizens cannot see or admit that it has been our own failed foreign policies that have caused many of today's problems throughout the world. Too much meddling and controlling. We reap what we sow.
Tim, US

Turn the question around: when was the last time any European or any other country for that matter took the US's view into account?
Paul, US

As an American living in Europe for many years, I discovered long before Mr. Bush was elected President, an absurd but huge jealousy by Europeans towards anything American. I experienced this jealousy to be a feeling of inferiority and incompetence on the part of Europeans towards the achievements of the Americans over the last century. America has to protect their interests and the interests of their people.
Jan, US

It's like this: Europe is full of thinkers and talkers, but short on action. America is all about taking action but never about talking or thinking through the consequences. It seems to me that we need to have a mass cultural exchange in order to create a proper balance - thereby making the world a better place to live.
D. Lyons, US

The US is only behaving in the same way every other dominant power ever has. The British Empire was just the same. The US is no better and no worse. But the only reason it's the world's only remaining superpower is that it's the only nation that has never given up its 19th century conquests - just ask the Indians (sorry, native Americans).
Philip Nice, UK

It's a shame that we have a sham leader in charge (remember, it was the Supreme Court that elected him). But Europe, Japan, and Russia have little to be proud of. The new leaders coming into power are little more than fascist and right wing rabble bent on protecting their interests as well, and also in violation of the human rights and well-being of others.
Ben Seligman, US

Americans also feel left out in the cold. While you Europeans have more of a society to fall back on, the sad reality in the US is that we don't. Capitalism as a model and a poor economy have many spooked and living in fear. Without trade, our model doesn't work well. Many of us feel that the Bush administration is more like a European Royalist and his election is not fully legitimate. We don't like this, after all - the bulk of America fled in poverty from failed noble class economic models. Our media is pathetic and is set up to sell things instead of convey information, so the bulk of Americans are in the dark about important matters, but know what is on sale at the stores. We need better unbiased media in America. When we have this tool, you will see that Americans will care more about the world. Until this happens, we will only appear as overly capitalistic.
Mr Slot, US

Europe, perhaps like the US in 1930s and early 1940s, wants to ignore the realities of the world today, hoping they might close their eyes and everything will go away. We in the US pray they wake up before it's too late.
Mike, US

Read all the comments from the Americans in this forum. Think about these comments. And form your own opinion on whether we can ever expect the US to take the world into account.
Marcel Klema, Canada

Seems to me that the US have elected a leader that is just like their country - a little stupid with a big mouth. The US should care about the planet not just their little corner of it, we are all human beings.
David Fisher, UK

Stop generalising us as Europeans please. Most people in the UK much prefer the US to any other European Nation.
Jack, UK

The Bush administration does not speak for all of us. He, unfortunately, represents the stereotypical self-obsessed American. I, for one, will celebrate the day when my country realises that it is not in its best interest to be the world's policeman.
Andrew Koransky, US

American citizens actually care very much about those who support us, especially England. I think it is important to know that our politicians go after the tariffs to garner votes that probably won't materialise. I wish we had a better president who would favour European opinion but until 2004 we are along for the ride.
Shaun Thomas, US

The European Union has not yet been able to reach consensus among its own members on many policies following it's formation. Get your own damn houses in order before you shoot your collective mouths off.
Franklin Teifeld, US

Americans are tired of all the poo-hooing from around the world. We need leaders that put our interests first - the world will fall into place behind us. After all, what is good for us, is good for the rest of you pansies.
Jesse, US

So, new nuclear weapons, rejecting every treaty possible (it would seem), more overseas aggression (when the current problems have been mostly caused by previous US actions)? Thanks a lot!
Lewis Clifford, UK

Hmm. I think the main reason that the Europeans are annoyed is the "if you are not with us, you are against us" speech that Bush gave. This is a sign of a weak democracy, where you are not even allowed to be critical. The critics might be right, or wrong, it doesn't matter, but at least they should be listened to! This gives the Europeans a feeling they are ignored, and that will mess up relations. It is good to stand united, but it is far superior to stand divided, because that is when the power of democracy takes control! /H
Håkan, Sweden and the US

Americans act (in their own interests); Europeans form committees and argue about what to do, by which time the opportunity for action has passed. I just wish Europe would get its act together and follow the lead of the USA over issues like global trade and Kyoto, rather than sitting on the sidelines wringing their hands and pointing their fingers at the "big bad USA". Get with the flow, or get left behind.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

No, the US does not take enough account of any other country's view, European or otherwise. But the EU countries need to be better coordinated and economically stronger to be in a position to be less concerned about US policies, period.
Mark, Barcelona

It's time that civilised countries in Europe and elsewhere realised that the USA is a "rogue state" and stopped all dealings with them until they mend their ways. Don't forget that as well as their unilateralism on trade and the environment, they are the only country in the so-called "civilised" world to use the death penalty.
Adam, UK

If the USA had waited for a European consensus on what should be done Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, Kosovo would be Muslim-free [and] al-Qaeda would be intact. Europe is much like it was before WWII - afraid to take any action.
Fred, Canada

The US has as much disregard for EU views as for the views of any other country. It's the US way or none. Look at its involvement in Iraq, a decade-long military campaign that is not even UN-sanctioned. It seems to have Carte Blanche to act as it will. If it did start taking account of other countries, its popularity may perhaps grow. By ignoring and riling what are essentially its allies, it's soon going to find itself in a pre-WW II isolationist situation. Perhaps then it will be a case of Mr President, you don't know what you have 'till it's gone.
Sam Law, New Zealand

Sparrows shouldn't squeak when the eagle flies its own way. Expecting America to do what Europeans want is the height of impertinence. Be grateful; be humble; be quiet.
Brian Larsopn, US

Debate and criticism is the life blood of the democracies - both in Europe and America. We are allied, but it is surely reasonable to expect divergent interests in some areas (and, thus, argument) from time to time. What is a worry are those parties on both sides who use arguments such as "shut up", "keep quiet" etc. These are probably the same people who have voted for teaching Creation Science in American classrooms, or who would fight someone to buy the last Cabbage Patch doll.
Mark Bennett, France

I think the bigotry on both sides of this very depressing debate is a pretty clear indication of the problem. The US does not rule the world, and it isn't ruled by it either. If we put a bit more effort into understanding each other, rather than each blaming the other side for what we are doing too, we'd do a lot better all round.
Alistair, UK

If the average American is as ignorant of their northern neighbour (and biggest trading partner) as they are, why would they see Europe any differently? To even high-ranking American politicians, the world is split into "USA" and "Other stuff". Don't expect miracles, guys.
Jesse Corbeil, Canada

Never mind just Europe, what about the views of African and Asian nations? Should they not have a place? It is high time the West stopped looking after its own selfish interests or there will never be free and FAIR trade.
Sarah, UK

US citizens are probable generally more sensitive than the US government. But the government is elected to try to make sure that US workers keep their jobs. A fairer trade policy would be appreciated by the international community, but many US voters won't see it that way if they are broke and unemployed. If Bush doesn't look out for their interests, they'll elect someone who will. It's nothing personal. It's just the other side of the coin; the reality vs. the theory, if you will...
Mel, US living in London

If it was not for the US, World War III would have broken out years ago. Europe resents the US because it has the power the Europeans are incapable of having... Instead of bad-mouthing the US all the time, they should stop and think what the world would be like without them - or maybe Europe thinks it can take its place - what a terrible thought!! God Bless America - and I'm English and proud of it!!
Steve Gentle, England

It does not. The question is: does it need to?
Derek Green, UK

Frankly I think if Europe is ignored by the US we only have ourselves to blame. How can we expect the US, or indeed anyone else in the world to take us seriously when we are so incapable of showing real leadership? So long as the EU has so many leaders and so many opinions and its position is so lacking in clarity, we cannot expect the US to consider our feelings on anything. President Bush may be intellectually challenged, but at least there is no dispute that he is the boss. Ours is a case of too many cooks spoiling what might otherwise be a very strong broth indeed.
Gareth Hitchings, The Netherlands

Before we start looking at the US perhaps French protectionism is where we should concentrate our efforts!!
Steve, UK

No, and why should we? We are damned if we do, damned if we don't. You guys (EU) complain about everything and do little.
Steve Martinefski, US

The US takes as much notice as possible of a group of leaderless states as necessary. When we start having a uniform opinion and act all together, then US will take the EU seriously. We need to form a United European Union.
Matt, UK

America seems to believe it can push Europe into following its own policies of using a country (such as Afghanistan in the 80s) to meet its own needs and then leaving it to fester. European governments take more care about building relations and helping a country. This is why many Europeans aren't so supportive of the US government's foreign policies.
Daniel Hill, UK

The US preaches to the world about free trade and then slaps tariffs on steel from the EU and refuses to comply with WTO rulings against it. The US claims to hold green concerns dear but ignores concerns about global warming and refuses to sign the Kyoto Treaty. The US criticises (with justification) Europe's agricultural subsidies whilst increasingly subsidising its own farming industry. In any case, these concerns, which many Americans also share, are justifiable. The image of the US across Europe has never been so low. Bush's "style", and I use that term loosely, must be partly responsible. Europe does by the way speak with one voice on trade issues (Pascal Lamy, European Trade Commissioner). We are a single market with a customs union after all! The Americans know who to call!!!
Nolan Quigley, UK

Why should the USA care what Europe or Canada or the rest of the world thinks, sorry guys we haven't and we won't. The last time I checked the US calls the shots on this planet, when we speak everyone else listens.
Brandon, US

I can only say I'm extremely embarrassed at some of the comments I've heard from some people in this country like the man with the eagle sparrow analogy or the guy who said when we speak everyone should listen - and they always say the French are arrogant! Please realise that not everyone in this country is as ignorant or shallow as these people.
Jasmine, US

What many people around the world seem to forget is how the United States came to be. We are the people that many of the European countries didn't want - we are the people that fled homelands looking for a better life for ourselves as well as our children. Sure, we care about the rest of the word, but when your struggling for survival yourself, it's not easy to look at more than your own little corner.
Mel, US

Obviously our leader is going to take care of his country's needs before the world's! That's what we elected him to do! As for the steel tariffs, what would you do if your market was being flooded by cheap product which was destroying our high quality industry? You would use protectionist tariffs, like the UK just did in response. It's what you do when you're a leader!!
Erin, US

The people in the USA are just like we in the UK and want to get on with their lives and have a good life. But their new president is only looking after his people's own interests and why not? I just wish Tony Blair would stand up for the people who vote for him. But being a bull in a china shop is not the way to get the job done. And force will never stop terror - you need to sort out the real root of why people feel the need to kill others.
Guy, London

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See also:

18 Jun 02 | Middle East
14 Jun 02 | Middle East
21 May 02 | Europe
16 May 02 | Business
10 May 02 | Business
03 Apr 02 | Business
06 Mar 02 | Business
30 Jan 02 | Americas
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