US keeps its head down as European crisis looms

23rd May 2005, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, May 22 (AFP) - The United States is doing its best not to be seen as taking sides as the European Union agonises over whether to approve a landmark constitution.

WASHINGTON, May 22 (AFP) - The United States is doing its best not to be seen as taking sides as the European Union agonises over whether to approve a landmark constitution.  

The US administration is keenly watching events, according to diplomats. Top officials say they want a strong Europe, but they studiously avoid commenting on the referendums on the constitution to be held in France next weekend and in the Netherlands on June 1.  

The State Department insists the result - which polls indicate is too close to call - is for Europe to decide.  

Some European leaders are suspicious of the silence, however.  

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said the United States and other Anglo-Saxon countries "do not like the idea of a constitution, this strengthening of Europe."  

Juncker said that US officials would be happy to see a French "no," because it "would correspond to their idea of a weak Europe".  

French President Jacques Chirac has also played the anti-American card in his campaigning for the May 29 vote.  

"What is the interest of the Anglo-Saxon countries, especially the United States? It is naturally to stop European construction, which risks creating a Europe that will be stronger to defend itself tomorrow," Chirac stormed during a nationally televised debate in April.  

If that is the US view, it is not uttered publicly.  

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after a Washington meeting this month with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier that a strong Europe would be good for transatlantic relations.  

Asked her view of the referendums, she said: "I don't have a vote, and so it doesn't matter."   Rice insisted that the United States has backed European integration going all the way back to the Coal and Steel Community of the 1950s.  

"We believe that a united Europe, a Europe that is strong and capable, a Europe that is clearly, at its core, democratic and that has a long tradition and heritage with the United States, can only be good for the forward march of progress and democracy in the world.  

"And so we want to see the European project succeed, because a strong Europe will be good for the forces of democracy. We would hope that a strong Europe would be outward looking, that it would continue to bring, as it has, new members."  

American analysts are more divided on what the US administration thinks of the vote.   Samuel Wells, director of West European Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, said:

"I think the administration made a decision last fall that they were going to actually encourage and do what they could to support increased integration in Europe on the general proposition that we need a partner that had greater coherence and capabilities.  

"Not everybody in the administration signed on to that, but that is the president's choice, and Secretary Rice has been quite clear in voicing that."  

According to Wells, a "no" would "certainly not go in the direction we think we need to go."  

The United States will soon get a chance to assess the post-referendum mood, as the next US-EU summit will be held in Washington on June 20.  

Since his own re-election, President George W. Bush has shown himself to be much more conciliatory towards Europe - even towards those, such as France, who opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.  

Whether they reflect administration views is unknown, but many US experts are perplexed over the conduct of the campaign by European politicians.  

"The thing which is disturbing to me and others who wish the European Union well is that the basis of the discussion in France about the referendum is not really much about what is in the constitutional treaty," said Wells.  

"It's about Turkey or it's about services directives, social policy and liberalism; it's about the nature of the government, the fact that a lot of people are tired of Chirac. This is frustrating, and it just points out what a risky and somewhat flawed instrument a referendum is on something that complicated."



Subject: French News

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