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American Power, European Power
Jamais Cascio, 12 Apr 04

Henry wrote to tell us about a new article in the Washington Monthly entitled "Euro Brash: Why George W. Bush takes orders from Pascal Lamy." It's an examination of the shifting economic balance of power between the US and Europe -- and what it means for global politics. Increasingly, the European Union is willing to assert a global economic role commensurate with the size of its market, even when its decisions run counter to those made in Washington. From blocking the US-approved merger between General Electric and Honeywell to demanding American software companies strengthen their privacy policies to match European rules (and, most recently, demanding Microsoft alter Windows, after the US Department of Justice backed down), the European Union is showing a growing ability and willingness to say "no" to American decisions.

This article argues that this could lead to a "backdoor Kyoto:"

American consumers may soon have to get used to buying products tailored to the demands of Brussels. The European Union, for example, has long forced U.S. automakers to improve their emissions standards for cars sold in the European market. Might they go a step further, and pressure firms like GM and Ford to improve their records worldwide? It's hypothetical, but Europeans would be thrilled if they could pull off a backdoor Kyoto, declaring that, since pollution is a global issue, only firms whose vehicle fleets meet worldwide standards could sell in the European market.

The US would howl, but the EU has already shown a willingness to hold firm against American demands over steel and hormone-laden American beef. Could Europe force American companies to go green, regardless of policies from Washington?

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We have seen strong evidence of US firms having to meet European environmental standards to create a world product. Internal environmental product stewards go to a design meeting and say, "Ah, I see you have designed a great product for the US market."

"Oh no," the designers reply, "This is a product for the whole world."

"I don't think so." the product steward says. "In 2005 you will need to be less than one watt on standby and you are 1.3. And I don't see your design for dissassembly. Have you baked in our costs when we get the product back at end of life?"

And so it is back to the drawing board. Europe rules.

Posted by: Gifford Pinchot on 12 Apr 04

"Might they go a step further, and pressure firms like GM and Ford to improve their records worldwide?"

Oh, please, oh please, oh please! I want GM and Ford to get interested in bio-diesel so I can have a diesel-powered Land Rover Discovery that will burn waste vegetabloe oil from McDonalds!

(And yes, I am VERY serious about this!)

Posted by: Dennis Moser on 12 Apr 04

Europe, the UK in particular, is way ahead of the US in the green game. It is simply because the government has not done what is required in the USA for these technologies to be developed and compete. Meanwhile the UK and elsewhere have mandates to be on % renewables by 2010 with full government and industry support. It's like the moonshot for them, they have a mission and everyones behind it. Special interests rule the day in the USA and untill there is a massive groundswell of public support it wont happen in the USA and I think Europe trying to force it might cause trade wars because the special interests here have too much power.

Posted by: Stephen Balbach on 13 Apr 04

Politics, like many other things, is driven quite a bit by economics. And economics is affected by politics. And I am an expert on neither, but - I would think that the market defines the product, which is not what the United States is used to (anymore).

Posted by: Taran on 13 Apr 04

I wonder if the EU could leverage international trade law like so: plead with / lean on Russia to ratify Kyoto, and once it comes into force, start proceedings in the WTO to the effect that American non-compliance amounts to an illegal subsidy for energy-intensive American industries.

Can anyone comment on whether this would be feasible and/or legal?

Posted by: F.Baube on 13 Apr 04



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