By PETER A. BROWN
The American people should consider President Bush's visit to Europe as we would view one to China -- a business trip to a rival whose interests and ours often differ.
Until Europe shows it again wants to be a U.S. ally, rather than an ambitious competitor, it would be foolish to treat the Europeans otherwise.
Bush understands the changing nature of the U.S. relationship with the continent from which most of our citizens trace their heritage. He is aware of the animus with which he is viewed there and that most of its leaders rooted for his defeat last year.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit this month sought to mend fences, but she did not apologize for U.S. policies that have driven a wedge in trans-Atlantic relations, nor did she suggest they would change.
Bush's refusal to bow to the European Union view that it is a countervailing force to the United States in world affairs to which he must cater, is at the root of the increasing disharmony between us and them.
It is not just Iraq, although the war symbolizes how differently Americans and Europeans see the world.
Europeans don't share the U.S. view that promoting individual freedom is a desirable foreign-policy goal. They believe talking is always (as opposed to usually) better than fighting. Hence their unhappiness with the U.S. results-oriented approach in world affairs and their belief that Bush's emphasis on spreading freedom is naive.
The Europeans' view of how an economy should operate requires more regulation and higher taxes than the U.S. emphasis on greater opportunity, which has yielded much higher living standards here than there. And they live in a more secular environment, less comfortable with traditional values.
How the Europeans deal with gays, guns and the gas chamber doesn't affect us. Their political and financial ambitions are another story.
Five U.S. senators met with French President Jacques Chirac recently. Delaware Democrat Joe Biden, who might be secretary of state were John Kerry president, told reporters that Chirac made clear he saw the European Union as a U.S. competitor as much as an ally.
The EU, now 25 nations strong, is not a monolith. England, Poland and other former Soviet satellites are more kindly disposed to Washington than are France and Germany.
But we should understand that the EU sees itself as a United States of Europe. It has a larger population and commercial market than our 50 states. The EU wants to supplant America as the world financial leader and rival it politically while continuing to take advantage of our defense umbrella.
The United States should treat the EU the same way it does other rivals with which it does business because doing so is in America's interest. We want good relations with Europe because of the mutual need to fight terrorism, just as we want to get along with China because we share a desire to keep North Korea nuclear-free.
Of course, there are differences between China and Europe, but those differences make Asia more important to our kids' future than Europe.
China -- and the rest of Asia -- is the relationship that will matter more down the road. The EU faces budget and pension problems that make ours look tame by comparison, while we are living in what is destined to be the "Asian Century."
Largest fighting force
The EU has no military that matters or any territorial ambitions. The Chinese, on the other hand, do bear watching because of their obvious interest in dominating Asia and their ability to field the world's largest, if not most powerful, fighting force.
It would be foolish for Americans to ignore the EU's goal of replacing the dollar as the world's dominant currency, which could cost U.S. jobs. The EU's instincts are much less market-friendly and it doesn't hesitate to use its immense regulatory bureaucracy to make life more difficult for U.S. companies, a back-door strategy of trying to win economic gains not available through free-market competition.
Politically, although the EU sees itself as one entity with a hoped-for unified foreign policy, its members outvote the United States 25-1 in the United Nations and other world bodies. Perhaps that is one reason why the EU answer to any problem seems to be sending it to some international group -- in which they are overrepresented -- for resolution.
Obviously a rapprochement in U.S.-European relations is in everyone's interest. But let's not forget the EU wants to take some of America's power and prosperity for its own.
X Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.