Europe and America post-Bush

European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström ponders EU-USA relations and finds a positive na

There is no doubt that the transatlantic relationship has not been through its smoothest period in recent years.

A decade ago, the Commission was worried that our trade disputes with the US might affect our political relationship. In recent years, the concern has at times been the opposite, about the possible impact of political tensions on the economic relationship. Inevitably these differences have affected public opinion in Europe, with 58% of Europeans viewing US leadership in world affairs undesirable, a figure largely unchanged since 2003.

But the differences have been endlessly highlighted and this negative story has masked a more positive one. What has passed almost unnoticed is that, in recent years, the US has come to recognise the need to treat the EU as an equal partner.

To take a few examples, the US has moved its official views on climate change from denial of the scientific evidence to the possibility of a jointly signed UN agreement in Copenhagen next year. We have a long way to go still, but what cannot be denied is how far US positions have moved towards European ones.

On Iran's nuclear programme, the US supported, and then joined an EU initiative to broker a negotiated solution. Recent attempts by some policymakers in Washington to take a more hawkish approach have been stymied by the assessments of their own intelligence establishment. It is a different story from Iraq, but it is at least as significant, showing how much a joint EU/US approach can achieve, even on the most sensitive issues of nuclear security.

Despite the tensions, throughout this period, the polling evidence has consistently shown that Americans and Europeans want closer economic ties. One survey last month shows that around two thirds on both sides of the pond support a new initiative aimed at deepening transatlantic trade and investment. Don't forget, between them, the EU and the US still count for 60% of global economic output, 40% of international trade (and that's not counting EU internal trade), and most development aid.

The public symbols of Washington's approach to Europe have changed too. Two months after his re-election, President Bush was the first US President for two decades to visit the EU's headquarters. Polls of Americans show a more positive perception of Europeans emerging. We have come a long way from the days of freedom fries and cheese eating surrender monkeys.

So whoever wins the US presidential election next year, the seeds of a more equal relationship have already been sown. The question is how this will be built on by the next US administration and by the European Union.

I suspect that both Europe and the US will find it necessary to build on this more equal relationship. Whatever our differences, there is more that unites us in international outlook than with any other actor on the international stage. So who else if not each other are we going to turn to when we build privileged partnerships?

I also think that Europe and America still have much to admire and to learn from each other. If the US can learn from the EU's approach to conflict resolution, I believe that we can learn a good deal from the US approach to legal migration, or their innovations in participatory democracy in the running of local services.

Culturally, it's clear that something has changed when rappers like Jay Z start using piles of euros in their videos and the world's richest model insists on being paid in euros. The predictors of Euro doom are strangely silent these days.

So, just maybe, another decade on, we will be looking back at this period as the time that the EU came of age with a stable currency, strong institutions, and a clear policy remit. One proof of this maturity will be the emergence of a more equal transatlantic partnership.

Margot Wallstrom, Vice-President, Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy
European Commission, will be a speaker at the Fabian Society Change the World conference on 19 January

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State