August 15, 2002

SOME USEFUL OBSERVATIONS from Frank Fukuyama on the American / European divide:

The ostensible issues raised in the US-European disputes since the ‘axis of evil’ speech for the most part revolve around alleged American unilateralism and international law. There is by now a familiar list of European complaints about American policy, including but not limited to the Bush Administration’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, its failure to ratify the Rio Pact on biodiversity, its withdrawal from the ABM treaty and pursuit of missile defence, its opposition to the ban on land mines, its treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, its opposition to new provisions of the biological warfare convention, and most recently its opposition to the International Criminal Court.

The most serious act of US unilateralism in European eyes concerns the Bush Administration’s announced intention to bring about regime change in Iraq, if necessary through a go-it-alone invasion. . . .

In the realm of economics, the Europeans don’t have all that great a record with regard to respect for multilateral rules when compared to the United States. They have been on their high horse this year because of American actions with regard to steel and agricultural subsidies, and they are right to complain about American hypocrisy with regard to free trade. But this I regard as kind of normal hypocrisy: all countries act in contradiction of declared free trade principles, and the Europeans have been notorious for, among other things, agricultural subsidies maintained at higher levels and over longer periods of time than American ones. America is guilty only of the most recent outbreak of hypocrisy.

There are a number of areas where the Europeans have acted unilaterally in economic matters, and in ways that at times contravene the existing legal order. The EU resisted unfavourable decisions against them on bananas for nine years, and beef hormones for even longer. They have announced a precautionary principle with regard to genetically modified foods, which is very difficult to reconcile with the WTO’s sanitary and phytosanitary rules. Indeed, the Europeans have been violating their own rules with regard to GM foods, with certain member states setting standards different from those of the community itself. The European Competition Commission under Mario Monti successfully blocked the merger of GE and Honeywell, when the deal had been approved by American and Canadian regulators, in ways that promoted suspicions that the EU was simply acting to protect specific European interests. Finally, the EU has succeeded in exporting its data privacy rules to the United States through its safe harbour arrangements.

For all their talk of wanting to establish a rule-based international order, the Europeans haven’t done that well within the EU itself. As John van Oudenaren has argued, the Europeans have developed a decision-making system of Byzantine complexity, with overlapping and inconsistent rules and weak enforcement powers. The European Commission often doesn’t have the power even to monitor compliance of member states with its own directives, much less the ability to make them conform. This fits with an attitude towards law in certain parts of Europe that sees declarative intent often of greater importance than actual implementation, and which Americans tend to see instead as undermining the very rule of law.

Not much here that the blogosphere hasn’t said, but it’s interestingly put together.

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