- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

High expectations are connected with Germany’s assumption of the EU presidency this month. Born 50 years ago as the humble European Economic Community, the development of the European Union, now enlarged by Bulgaria and Romania to 27 members, has been an unqualified success story.

Europe’s integration has brought stability, economic growth, security and peace to the war-torn Continent. However, globalization, the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West linked to immigration problems and terrorism, in addition to its energy dependency and environmental concerns are challenges that are taking their toll.

In her short “working” visit to Washington yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has briefed the American president on her extensive roadmap that starts with the premise that effectively countering the many conflicts in the world will require that Europe speak with one voice. It is the voice of 500 million people.

To this end, Mrs. Merkel intends to revive the push for adopting the European Constitution rejected by France and the Netherlands in 2005. A EU foreign minister may be an appealing idea to some, but it remains questionable when France and Britain would be ready to give up their seats in the U.N. Security Council to accommodate such an entity.

Strengthening trans-Atlantic economic and political relations and crisis management are part of an ambitious foreign policy agenda defined by a Europe as full-fledged strategic partner. Though discouraged by France and Brussels’ bureaucracy and protectionists, but aided by the failed Doha Round on the reduction of trade barriers, the intrepid Atlanticist will, most likely, address the topic of a Transatlantic Economic Zone, a concept of breaking down regulatory walls that emerged as an Atlantic Free Trade Zone during the ‘90s.

As far as action in the Middle East is concerned, the German EU presidency is slated to concentrate on stabilizing Lebanon with the help of the Middle East quartet and the continued pursuit of a peaceful solution for Tehran’s nuclear standoff.

Its role in war-torn Iraq is defined as continued support for the political, social and economic nation-building process. Consolidating its staying power in Afghanistan, Germany intends to strengthen the EU’s engagement in ongoing nonmilitary programs as espoused in the “Afghanistan Compact.” Concentrating on Palestine, Mrs. Merkel’s EU agenda envisions an enhanced support of President Mahmoud Abbas’ national unity efforts along with direct contacts to Israel and consolidation of an uneasy truce.

Berlin’s diplomatic role in the Turkey standoff will please this administration. Without closing the door to the EU, a freeze of Turkey’s accession process because of Ankara’s refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, a EU member, without an economic quid pro quo for the Turkish part of Northern Cyprus was seen as a way out of a critical situation.

And to bring movement to the frozen Cyprus question, Germany has signaled a different approach. Suggestions to link the unblocking of hindrances to the Turkish Cypriot economic development in concert with initiatives to revive the U.N.’s reunification process of the divided island are welcome steps toward resolving the lingering Cyprus conflict that have never been contemplated before.

Long sections are devoted to neighborhood policies dwelling on improving relations with countries to the south and east. Many are potential EU membership candidates, given to understand the next rounds of accessions would be more difficult.

Energy dependency, Moscow’s petro-politics and general relations between the EU and Russia that supplies Europe with 20 percent of its gas are ranking high on Angela Merkel’s agenda that aspires to draw Russia closer into the European orbit. Secure, environment-friendly energy sources are a decisive factor in Europe’s development program centered on a sustainable developmental energy policy. To highlight this aspect, the German chancellor plans to present a comprehensive “Energy Action Plan” to the European Council during her presidency. Similar plans are projected for protecting the environment.

Mrs. Merkel has kept her country’s unlikely grand coalition together, calls for the recovery of Europe’s economic dynamism as the basis of its social system, growth, employment and competitiveness. She also addresses the necessity of a common policy to combat illegal migration and illegal workers and better secured borders to prevent illegal immigration.

Long-ranging drafts for a coherent foreign policy are enhanced by plans of military cooperation with the perspective of a functional common European defense system and the urgency of strengthening Europe’s small and mobile autonomous fighting units readied for action in regional crisis situations.

Together, Mrs. Merkel’s EU reform initiatives have but one aim: to pull a Europe, plagued by self-doubt and immigration fatigue together and shape it into one strong and prosperous union to be reckoned with. Once united in its approach to economic growth and social issues the expanded EU, sharing 20 percent of global trade, should be able to assume its global responsibilities and whether we like it or not become an indispensable partner.

Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and recipient of the 2005 William J. Flynn Initiative for Peace Award for her seminal work promoting German unification.

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