Taunted by protesters, scolded by the foreign media and scrutinized by fellow presidents and prime ministers, President Bush had a rocky reception when he made his debut in Europe last week. But the issues were not only Bush's positions on missile defense, a global environmental treaty and the death penalty.
Underlying the encounter was a historic shift: Europe is emerging as an increasingly united community that often speaks with a louder single voice--and stakes a claim to a wider role in world affairs--than ever before.
It no longer wants to be viewed as a disparate collection of countries salvaged from fascist rule by the United States more than half a century ago, revived economically by American largess and protected from Communist aggression by a U.S.-led military alliance ever since.
In other words, the European Union sees itself in the 21st century as an equal partner, not a surrogate or dependent of the United States. It has its own agenda. And it intends to persevere in creating its own institutions, including a European emergency military force, to achieve its goals.
"The progress made toward a European defense is irreversible, since it is part of a deep-seated and more general trend toward European integration. The emergence of a European Union fully taking its place on the international scene is now a historical fact of life," French President Jacques Chirac said during Bush's meeting with his 18 NATO counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday.
But recalibrating the balance of transatlantic power has created an inevitable tension.
"This has been a central contradiction in U.S. foreign policy for 50 years. Democrats and Republicans alike have wanted to see a more united and stronger Europe, but as it comes about in practice, every administration since 1950 has gotten increasingly nervous about it," said Philip Gordon, a European expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It's particularly true of Republicans because of the way they see U.S. leadership in the world."
Practical political differences have widened the gap. A conservative occupies the White House, while most of the capitals in the 15-member European Union are run by center-left social democrats. So the current governments in the United States and Europe also disagree philosophically on basics, ranging from the role of taxation and protecting wildlife to foreign aid for family planning and the role of the state in ensuring workers' rights.
"They appear to come from different planets," mused the Swedish independent paper Expressen GT on Thursday.
The divide is deepened by public perceptions. While most Europeans are proud of their growing unity and power, most Americans don't grasp the basic change in the world's political architecture, much less its implications.
Most Americans struggle to understand exactly what the European Union is and don't grasp the impact of "shared sovereignty," U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said Thursday in Brussels.
The gap has been widened with the passing of the World War II generation.
"The new generations, generally ignorant of or indifferent to history, need logical reasons and practical interests to determine that a priority should be given to the transatlantic relationship," said Jacqueline Grapin, president of the European Institute in Washington.
And Europe's independence and leverage are likely to grow in the years ahead, especially as the EU expands, analysts in both the United States and Europe contend.
The European Union--which currently includes Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden--is talking with 13 other nations about future membership. It could add as many as five new members in 2004 and 10 within a decade.
At more than 370 million people, its current population is already larger than that of the United States. And it already has major economic leverage as the source of about 50% of foreign investment in the United States, accounting for about 3 million high-paying American jobs, according to the EU office in Washington.
"The EU is already a regional power. With a single currency and its own rapid-deployment force, an expanded EU will change the whole equilibrium in transatlantic relations because it will be a world power. Europe will be able to challenge the direction of Western diplomacy as well as share responsibility for action in many parts of the world," said Fernando Rodrigo, a specialist in EU-U.S. relations at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
The EU still has a long way to go in fully developing into a United States of Europe, a process launched in 1952 when six countries came together in the European Coal and Steel Community to pool their resources in a common market.
Half a century later, the EU has an executive branch in the European Commission headquartered in Brussels and a European Parliament, which meets in both Brussels and Strasbourg, France. It also has the intergovernmental European Council, which brings together ministries on common topics of concern, and a central bank in the Dutch city of Maastricht that will complete the euro's transformation into a common currency next year.
"In some areas, such as trade, the EU has a structure that allows it to negotiate with the U.S. as an equal. It has not yet fully crossed the threshold in areas of foreign affairs and defense, but it has made important advances," Gordon said.
Javier Solana was selected in 1999 as the first EU foreign minister and has since been active in several hot spots, most recently in the Balkans, where he has mediated this month. And next year the EU hopes to launch its rapid-deployment force of 60,000 troops.
Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy--countries that were at war 60 years ago--are today "converging in their vision of the world," increasingly in defiance of the United States, said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform in London.
They have been willing to challenge Washington's policy on Iraq, have engaged with North Korea when the Bush administration initially balked at doing so and have sent their own delegations to the Mideast--all of which would not have happened a mere decade ago, Grant added.
The EU's emergence should not alarm Americans, analysts say. Whatever the differences, there are still no two blocs on Earth that share a closer history or a more common set of goals.
"Given their global roles, the EU and the U.S. are destined to compete in world markets. But given the convergence of their strategic interests, they are also destined to cooperate in dealing with crises and global challenges," Solana wrote in the Financial Times on the eve of Bush's meeting with the EU leadership here. "Differences may arise, but the relationship is strong enough to withstand frank exchanges from time to time."
Indeed, the greater danger is a U.S. strategy that cold-shoulders Europe's priorities.
"If Bush treats foreign policy like he does domestic policy and says to hell with those who don't agree with our policies, then Europeans may be tempted to do what [ex-Republican Sen. James M.] Jeffords did and go their own way," Solana wrote. "As Europe builds its own capabilities, we can create a world together or risk letting them build one separate from us."