The Future of Transatlantic Relations: A View from Europe

Justin Vaïsse
Justin Vaïsse Former Brookings Expert, Director, Policy Planning Staff - French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs

June 17, 2003

Many of the questions that your letter of invitation listed aimed at interpreting what went wrong in the transatlantic relationship this winter. Let me first give you an interpretation from the French side and distinguish what motivated French foreign policy and what did not.

Defense of commercial interests: No—trade with Iraq was somewhere between 0.2% and 0.3% of French trade, and if this had been a factor, the appropriate strategy for France and Germany would have been be to join the coalition, and insist on getting a fair share of oil and other contracts afterwards.

Anti-Americanism: Even less so—President Chirac is probably the less anti-American of all recent French presidents, and anti-Americanism, from a historical point of view, has been receding in French society since the high points of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. The French were against this particular war and anti-Bush, not anti-American. The recent poll by the Pew Center, released earlier this month, confirms this view: 74% of French people think that the problem (“with the US”) is with the Bush administration (this is the highest rate among the 20 countries surveyed), and only 21% think the problem rests with America in general (this is the third lowest rate of the 20 countries).