European Parliament President Martin Schulz: The long view of our trans-Atlantic ties

Twentieth-century Europe furnished the theater for some of humanity's most terrible tragedies. The devastating European wars that scarred the first half of the century and the Cold War that disfigured the second led the United States to see the continent as the main frontier for its national security. For Europeans too, it seemed natural that the relationship with the United States should be nurtured, given the political, cultural and economic affinity and, indeed, common interests. 

Yet, in a world of shifting and diffuse power, the self-evidence of the trans-Atlantic bond seems to fade.

As a new generation of Europeans emerges and as the United States undergoes important demographic changes, fewer and fewer Americans and Europeans recall the horrors of the Second World War or the remarkable and U.S.-assisted European rebirth. Even the Cold War ended over 20 years ago and has little political resonance today. A reinvigorated long view of our relationship will not derive from such immediate and explicit threats but should be based on an appraisal and recognition of our shared legacy, present and future. We must continue to consciously and carefully re-infuse meaning and purpose into this vital global relationship. 


The 21st century is said to be that of the Pacific, of a rising and risen China, and of a declining and declined West. We read every day of our common failure to stop bloodshed in the Middle East, of the growing status but uncertain future of China and of the ongoing "Euro-crisis.” While the profound hardship and conflict caused by Europe's economic and fiscal uncertainty have attracted enormous attention in America, the current situation represents a difficult step on the path to greater fiscal, economic and political integration. 

We must look beyond this crisis and narrative of decline. We need to look at the longer view of history, which allows us to see difficult times as opportunities. The need for decisive action is what dominates life in both the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament. The bipartisan efforts to avoid the “fiscal cliff” are America’s version of our own attempts in Europe to urgently get a grip on the economic situation: ending recession and restoring growth, creating new jobs and fostering competitiveness, curbing public debt and healing our internal rifts. These are common problems requiring common responses.

The relative lack of in-depth discussion of U.S.-European relations would surely surprise most 20th-century readers. It should surprise us, too. The shared cultural heritage and liberal democratic values of Europe and the United States relate to a broader agenda as well as to our core pragmatic interests. Going forward, both the United States and EU must look to each other on a range of issues that unilateral action cannot adequately address. 

During President Obama's second term and prior to the EU's institutional leadership change in mid-2014, the European Parliament looks forward to the development of the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area, a complex but vital step toward enhanced innovation, competitiveness and stability across the Atlantic. In this process, the Trans-Atlantic Legislators' Dialogue, convening shortly from Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Washington, D.C., is crucial. 

Furthering our strong traditions of human rights and democracy promotion will be crucial. We in the EU are now establishing a European Endowment for Democracy modeled partly on the National Endowment for Democracy. This comes after a reinvigoration of the EU human-rights policy, adopted as a core foreign-policy component driven forward by the European Parliament. The success of recent EU and U.S. coordination of sanctions against Iran, the EP and U.S. congressional outcry on the Sergei Magnitsky case, EU-U.S. joint action in the Balkans and Ukraine and successive visits by President Obama and a European Parliament delegation to Burma all signal both the shared willingness and capacity to confront urgent global challenges to human rights and democracy. 

Increased investment in new energy sources to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and cutting carbon emissions is of common interest not just to both the EU and the United States, but indeed to the entire globe. 

In a world of interweaving polarities, there are no purely bilateral relationships. The United States increasingly looks toward Pacific Asia, but will also continue to engage in North Africa and the Middle East, which are on Europe's doorstep. Our actions should reinforce each other's toward the long view of our trans-Atlantic ties.