G.E.’s Acquiescence Threatens Delicate Balance of Transatlantic Mutual Disdain

The Hague ( – Europe and the U.S. are said to be furious with General Electric after the American firm hinted it may actually succumb to European pressure and cancel its merger with Honeywell, a move both sides say threatens the longstanding arrangement under which Europe gets to criticize America with impunity, and America couldn’t care less.

Ungrateful wretches

“What G.E. is considering, this is not how the system works,” said European Commission President Romano Prodi. “The way it works is, Europe criticizes something about America, such as this merger of U.S. firms, and America goes off and does whatever the hell it was going to do anyway, and then we get to criticize it for that doing that, and America again doesn’t care, and so on and so forth.”

Bush administration officials agreed, and urged G.E. to abide by the spirit of the agreement. “What General Electric doesn’t seem to understand is, European approval is not a mere formality, it’s a genuine formality,” said U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. “If we want to build an Anti-Missile Shield or bomb the Middle East or combine two large American companies, we listen to Europe’s objections, and then we build an Anti-Missile Shield or bomb the Middle East or combine two large American companies. End of story.”

The transatlantic backlash comes in response to remarks by G.E. President Jeffrey Immelt, who suggested his company would have no choice but to scrap the $43 billion merger after a European Commission panel recommended the deal be rejected on competitive grounds.

Responding to the controversy, Immelt expressed genuine surprise, insisting his company could not simply ignore the vote and buy Honeywell because the commission would then prohibit G.E. from doing business in much of Europe. Cheney, in a joint press conference with E.C. competition commissioner Mario Monti, said he doubts it will come to that.

“Yes, it will come to that, you arrogant bastard,” warned Monti.

“Yeah, sure, duly noted,” replied Cheney.

“There,” said both men. “See how it works?”

Across the continent, meanwhile, many Europeans worried that G.E.’s acquiescence may foment a destabilizing “devil-may-actually-care” attitude among Americans.

“I am very fond of saying that all Americans are fat and carry guns,” said Michel Plantain, a clerk at the Hotel Pergolese in Paris. “If Americans act on that opinion and lose weight and give up guns, then what will I have left to criticize, other than American hubris and xenophobia and food and sport and television and fashion?”

“I am having enough trouble trying to pretend to like the Germans,” Plantain added. “I don’t need this aggravation.”

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