EU hopes for reconciliation in Bush's second term

20th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

20 January 2005, BRUSSELS - Having squabbled publicly over Iraq, Iran and a range of other issues over the last four years, European Union policy makers are looking for a fresh start in frayed transatlantic relations during US President George W. Bush's second term. Calls for stronger transatlantic cooperation are not only emanating from Americas traditional allies - Britain, Netherlands, Poland and the Nordic states - but also from Germany and France, which had strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq

20 January 2005

BRUSSELS - Having squabbled publicly over Iraq, Iran and a range of other issues over the last four years, European Union policy makers are looking for a fresh start in frayed transatlantic relations during US President George W. Bush's second term.

Calls for stronger transatlantic cooperation are not only emanating from Americas traditional allies - Britain, Netherlands, Poland and the Nordic states - but also from Germany and France, which had strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The new mood is also very much on display in Brussels where EU policy makers have put repairing relations with the US on the top of their foreign policy and trade agenda.

However, reviving transatlantic relations will be a long-haul effort following the acrimony provoked by differences over the Iraq war, EU diplomats admit.

Many are heartened by the US Presidents decision to visit EU and NATO headquarters in Brussels on 22 February.

Diplomats in Brussels say the trip - Bush's first foreign visit after his inauguration - signals Washington's readiness to mend fences with Europe, replacing years of tension with sweet talk of common transatlantic values and shared global concerns.

The US President and his top officials are already illustrating "a more positive articulation about the EU," a senior EU diplomat told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa.

There were references to the EU per se rather than just to Europe, the diplomat said, adding that Bush would also be the first US president to come to the EU Council headquarters.

The pledge by incoming US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her Senate hearings to use diplomacy in international relations has also heartened many in Brussels who had grown weary of Washingtons focus on unilateral action.

The EU is also under new leadership. The new head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, is a former Portuguese prime minister who backed the Iraq war and has made no secret of his commitment to forging stronger ties with Washington.

His trade chief Peter Mandelson has also put improved contacts with America at the top of his priorities.

Eager to avoid what Mandelson termed "a gladiatorial clash" over government subsidies to Boeing and Airbus, he and outgoing US trade representative Robert Zoellick recently agreed to stop squabbling and start negotiating an end to state handouts to civil aircraft makers.

A "disastrous confrontation" between the two economic giants over Boeing and Airbus would have cast a cloud over President Bushs visit to Europe, making vows of turning over a new leaf in EU-US ties sound extremely hollow, Mandelson told reporters.

The mood-switch in Brussels is reflected in other EU capitals. Instead of lecturing the US on the merits of multilateralism and the advantages of "soft" European diplomacy compared to Washington's use of military power, EU leaders have been going out of their way to underline the importance of transatlantic relations.

"I think 2005 should mark a new start in our relations, between the United States and France and between the United States and Europe," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said recently.

Relations should be based on "listening to each other, having a more regular dialogue and mutual respect," Barnier said.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is also hoping his talks with Bush on 23 February  in Germany will inject much-needed harmony into relations between Washington and Berlin.

Repairing damages to the Atlantic alliance will not be achieved overnight, however.

Diplomats in Brussels say a healing of wounds requires that the two sides put in place preventive mechanisms needed to allow a discussion of issues in time to avoid full-blown disagreements such as current differences over EU plans to lift the arms embargo on China.

Crucially, disagreement over how to tackle Irans nuclear ambitions also continue to be a source of transatlantic friction.

But neither side wants to cloud the 22 February visit with such feuds. Instead, with the Americans clearly in conciliatory mode and ready to reach out to Europe, "we must be ready to respond," says a senior EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The EU will be looking for "more US involvement in the Middle East peace process," the diplomat said.

Europeans, however, will also have to reassess their so far limited role in Iraq. "The US is interested that we do more on Iraq. We have to look at this, in particularly in the aftermath of the Iraqi elections," the diplomat added.

DPA

Subject: German news

 

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