The way forward: What is in store for the German-US relationship?

22nd February 2005, Comments 0 comments

George Bush claims it is time to renew the transatlantic relationship. Andrew McCathie looks at the nature of the relationship and what the future might hold for it...and Europe.

George Bush is visiting Europe at a time when signs are emerging of a new sense of common purpose among Europeans. Indeed, Spain’s vote for the European constitution is a major boost to the cause of greater European integration and consequently a stronger Europe.

By falling in behind Europe’s constitution at the weekend referendum, Spain has helped to give a welcome boost to the next stage of the drive for greater European integration.

The size of the turnout in the referendum may have been disappointing and the constitution itself still might face a rocky road until it is finally ratified, with 10 more referendums to be held including in several of the 25-member EU’s most Eurosceptical nations such as Britain and Denmark.

But coming as US President George W Bush visits Europe, the Spanish referendum outcome helps to strengthen the impression of a Europe committed to promoting a set of common ideals and forging common policy stances, notably in the crucial areas of defence and foreign policy.

Critics of the EU constitution have pointed to the large numbers of Europeans who say they do not know what is in the constitution as underlying the failure of EU leaders and officials to adequately explain the purpose of the charter and as a sign of the lack of necessity of bringing it into force.

However, even in those countries that have had constitutions for decades it would be hard to find citizens who are able to rattle off in any great detail the key provisions of their national constitutions.    

But they would be able to say what their constitutions stand for.

Indeed, what EU citizens are voting on and European parliaments are endorsing are a set of principles and values that are enshrined in the constitution and which have emerged over the years since the EU was founded.

Moreover, with the euro now an established part of the world monetary order, the European charter helps to bring European political integration into line with the big strides that the EU has taken in advancing the cause of European economic integration.

The roll out of the referendums and parliamentary votes also coincides with recognition in Washington that a strong and more independent Europe could form an important part of US security.

"America supports a strong Europe ... because we need a strong partner," Bush said in Brussels on a European trip aimed at laying aside the differences that emerged between Washington and Europe over the Iraq war.

After all, the last few years has been marked by the emergence of regional powers such as Brazil and China that has made the world a far more complicated place, and as the Bush White House has discovered, much more difficult for the US to act on its own.

While German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder found himself under fire after calling for a review of NATO and suggesting that the organisation no longer formed the principal platform for transatlantic dialogue, he may have in fact being simply underscoring the changes that have been underway for sometime.

After the deep divisions in Europe that were exposed by Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, Europeans have been working extra hard to present a unified front on diplomatic efforts to remove the nuclear threat posed by Iran, to strengthen the Kyoto Treaty on climate change, and to lift the arms embargo on China.

Despite its endorsement of a strong Europe, Washington’s problem is that many of the issues which the Europeans have chosen as an expression of their new sense of unity and common purpose are at odds with the stance taken by the US.

This also underscores the potential for future transatlantic conflict with evidence of the differing approaches between the Europeans and the Americans emerging over the recent assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, which triggered a wave of criticism of Syria’s role in Lebanon.

While the Europeans endeavour to keep the lines of communication open and to engage with problem states, Washington appears more inclined to isolate and cut off dialogue with those countries.

In the case of Syria, while the Europeans have stressed engagement, Washington pulled out its ambassador from Damascus.

22 February 2005

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject:  German news

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