TCS Daily

EU Realpolitik

By Joseph Tom Goeller - June 23, 2005 12:00 AM

The annual US-EU summit took place in Washington, D.C. this week -- and what an awkward photo op it was, seeing Europe's hobbled leaders in the Oval Office with President Bush. "Working together as global partners" was the motto for the meeting. Yes, there have been promises from both sides about a fruitful partnership, but the reality is quite different.

With its current state of crisis in the wake of the French and Dutch constitutional referendums and the EU summit fiasco, can the Union really be the serious partner the U.S. is looking for to address urgent global issues?

What's more, can we really expect the EU and US to resolve anything during the course of one day, during which the leaders discussed everything from the promotion of economic growth and energy issues to reform of the United Nations, development and humanitarian assistance and security issues? Not much room to take any one issue seriously.

But that's not what those kinds of summits are supposed to be about. Yes, there were the expected agreements on steps to enhance EU-US cooperation on conflict prevention and crisis response. And fine words on Iraq. But I doubt whether Europe is able to commit much more than lip service to the US goals in these areas. The summit, in other words, may have been a waste of time.

This is why most of all the US must alter its politics towards Europe -- again. It is ironic that President Bush has been blamed by the press, public and pundits for ignoring "Europe's opinion", especially in the early days of the Iraq invasion. The public opinions of France and Germany in particular, fueled by a biased press, are convinced more than ever that if Bush would not have acted "unilaterally" in March 2003, Europe would be at his side -- at least closer than now. Even though there are Europeans, such as the British, Italians and Polish, who committed troops to Iraq, those contingents are seen as individual contributions, not as a commitment of the European Union.

After his re-election, Bush followed the advice of "concerned" State Department diplomats and went on a fence-mending tour of Europe, visiting Brussels and meeting with Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac. The U.S. president struck a clear conciliatory tone. "Together we can once again set history on a hopeful course," he said, urging the EU to help reconstruct Iraq, adding that he wanted to work in partnership with a united Europe.

Strangely enough since then Europe seems to be falling apart. Now that the US president is no longer the obsession of the European press and public opinion, now that Europeans are not distracted and have begun to mind their own business, the EU is more polarized than ever over key issues. The rifts are such that integration now risks becoming gridlocked and the EU itself could splinter. There is no united Europe, the American president can "work with in partnership".

The consequence of Europe's deep crisis can only be to intensify bilateral relations again, at least until there is a European Union worthy of its name -- which won't be in Bush's second term. There are recent examples where bilateral diplomacy obtained concrete results: France's cooperation with the US to get Syria out of Lebanon, for example, or US-Polish joint efforts in solving the Ukraine election crisis this past December. That's what Germans call Realpolitik.



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