Continental Drift

The Divisions that Damage the U.S.–EU Relationship

An inflatable model of a "Trojan horse" is reflected in a window during a protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in Brussels, Belgium, July 15, 2015 Francois Lenoir / Reuters

The seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe and Asia is an opportunity to reconsider the frustrating state of contemporary transatlantic relations. In spite of mutual reassu­ran­ces and charming summit photos, Europe and the United States are becoming increasingly alie­nated from each other. The European public, initially inspired by U.S. President Barack Obama’s charisma, has been left cold by his performance in office. Long hoping for more continental support for its policies, Washington has become annoyed with the European Union’s slow decision-making processes. Mutual irritation is not just a byproduct of personal estrangement among leaders on both sides of the Atlantic—Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron are no George Bush and Tony Blair—but is rather the result of a deeper divergence that has built up for several decades.

The irony is that, even if both sides no longer see eye to eye, they need each other more than ever. Cultural differences are obscuring continued interdependence in trade and complicating cooperation on climate change, globalization, migration, and terrorism. A new transatlantic dialogue is needed to address this deepening division before it becomes unbridgeable.


On the surface, everything seems to be fine between the transatlantic partners. In after-dinner speeches, the partners continue to celebrate their friendship, especially when faced with common threats such as international terrorism. Hordes of U.S. tourists visit European sites each summer; many Europeans fly to the United States every year to admire the nation’s landscape. Study abroad programs are flourishing in both directions, filled with students interested in discovering the connections between two cultures on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Mutual trade has reached new heights, with U.S. imports from the EU totaling $247.2 billion during the first seven months of 2015.

European Council President Donald Tusk (L) listens to comments by U.S. President Barack Obama to reporters before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington, March 9, 2015. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
But behind closed doors in Washington and Brussels, there is increasing irritation. The complex Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotia­tions seem stalled over disagreements on genetically modified food, industrial safety

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