Federico Rampini Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Europe and the Left: Conversation with Federico Rampini, West Coast and Pacific Rim Correspondent of La Repubblica; 9/25/02 by Harry Kreisler

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Europe after 9/11

One gets the sense -- as we are talking, the German election has just occurred -- that in this process [of responding to globalization] it's two steps forward, a half-a-step back, then two steps forward. Is that a fair assessment? Because one sees in particular elections (and some would argue this is the case in Germany and its position on the Iraq War), [politicians] winning votes at home to distance the country from the United States and from what a unified Europe might want to present in approaching U.S. policy toward Iraq.

Yes. This is a very complex issue. I would begin by saying that September 11 had a very negative effect on European integration, insofar as the degree of union and homogeneity between foreign policies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom was reduced after September 11. And there was a search of a special relationship with the United States.

Individually, by each ...

Individually, by each government -- by Tony Blair, by Jacques Chirac, to a lesser degree by Schroeder before the general elections -- and this happened in a very important and crucial moment of European integration, because the European Union is going to enlarge by accepting new members, which are mostly former communist countries from Eastern Europe. So we have, today, fifteen countries in the European union. In a few years, it might be twenty-five countries. This means that governing the Union is becoming much more complex, and so the European Union is undergoing a constitutional reform process in order to have a stronger institution.

Now, unfortunately, the interrelationship between this constitutional reform process and the impact of September 11 is that we are in that moment when we are going two steps backwards. There is definitely, in this moment in Europe, a trend toward retaking possession of national sovereignty. This new constitution of the European Union will have probably the form not so much of a federalist constitution; it will be much more a European Union governed by national states, with a sort of directory of the most powerful nations like France, United Kingdom, Germany. Much more an intergovernmental play of influence than a real European Union modeled on the United States federalist model.

What is it in particular about 9/11 and the reaction to it that is leading to this partial reassertion of a national identity?

There were very different aspects. First of all, the fact that the United States was threatened in their security, and at the same time, they did not want any help from NATO, as such. Somehow this disrupted an equilibrium among the European countries. Each European country, especially the most important ones, those who had some military power to give in a bargaining process with the United States, felt that it was in their national interest to look for a special relationship with the United States.

And then, also, after September 11, one year after, the evolution of the American foreign policy towards a more and more unilateralist approach with this Bush doctrine of the preemptive strike, of preemptive war, has led to a complete separation of trends in Europe. The British are becoming more and more pro-American, whereas in the Continental Europe, public opinion is more and more alarmed and scared by the American foreign policy. And so you have the extreme case of the Germans, where Germans, really, for the first time since the Second World War, a German general election was won on the basis of anti-Americanism.

You've thought a lot about Europe and the way it responds to the United States, and for several years you've been here covering the country. What is your assessment now about the Europe - U.S. relationship, both in terms of the differences and the way they converge on some policy issues? Do you have an overall assessment you would like to share with us? Or is it too complicated?

It's complicated, but I will try. I came here in California when Europe was at the end of a beautiful love story with the American model. It was a love story due to the New Economy euphoria.

So this would be what year?

I arrived here in the spring of 2000. Europeans were completely fascinated by the New Economy model, especially by the Silicon Valley and Bay Area economic dynamism. At the same time, Europeans were fascinated by Bill Clinton as a politician, also as a foreign policy strategist. They were very, very impressed by the whole story of the nineties in the United States -- this interrelationship between economic dynamism, the idea of a new economic international order, and also the building of a multi-ethnic society based on diversity, which is a lesson that Europeans are still trying to learn. And then President Bush came. And then September 11. So I think that, after all, it's only two years, but it's as though twenty years have passed, and things have changed dramatically.

Now, the United States and Europe are drifting apart. The distance is growing larger and larger. Misunderstanding. There is not any more fascination in Europe with the American economic model. In fact, after Enron and all the corporate scandals, Europeans are rethinking all that they thought they had to learn from American capitalism. I would say they have lost any confidence in the American capitalism and in the rules of corporate governance.

They they are experiencing something like a divorce between a husband and a wife. I mean, there is this sense of a betrayal. We, in Europe, had believed so much in the American myth of the strongest capitalism, and at the same time a very meritocratic society, this whole idea of a very ethical capitalism, based on performance, merit. And now the dream is falling into pieces. So there is a degree of disillusionment with the United States that is unbelievable.

Let's follow up on that and talk a little about the different ways of viewing the problem of terrorism, because there seem to be very great differences. Does that come out of two very different traditions? Is it a reflection of the very different ways that the U.S. and Europe see the world and the causes of strife in the world? And also, the way Europe has dealt with terrorism in the past, and we are in some sort of a culture shock, never having had it hit home in the way European states have?

Yes, almost all European states have experienced terrorism in their own countries, which makes them probably more realistic. But that does not mean that Europeans are in a position to lecture the United States on how to defeat terrorism. Because, in fact, no European country has ever been completely successful in their fight against terrorism. Italy had a terrible leftist, extreme leftist, terrorism in the seventies, with the kidnapping of a prime minister. The Prime Minister was killed -- Mr. Aldo Moro, a Christian Democrat, was killed by the Red Brigades in '78. But although the Red Brigades phenomenon is not as strong today, it has not been defeated. We still have terrorism. This year, a distinguished economician, a professor, was killed; he was assassinated by the Red Brigades because he was a counselor to the government.

The British have never defeated the IRA terrorism. Spain has never defeated the Basque terrorism. France had fundamentalist Islamic terrorism in the eighties. I lived in Paris, by the way, when there were terrible attacks, deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, in the underground. And the French stories are very embarrassing on how they were able to reduce the degree of threats. In fact, they made a lot of concessions to the terrorist groups.

So it's true that the Europeans see maybe more clearly into the limits of the actual American policy. They see, for instance, the contradictions. They see that Osama bin Laden was a creature of American foreign policy, that al Qaeda was helped and supported, and trained, and financed by the CIA and by Saudi Arabia, of course. So they are probably more realistic about the mistakes that the United States has made in the last years. But that does not mean, frankly, that the Europeans have a recipe that they know how to defeat terrorism. Unfortunately, they don't.

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