- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

President Bush will find few ideological soul mates when he sits down today for his first summit with the leaders of the European Union.
Just three of the 15 EU governments — Spain, Italy and Austria — are firmly in the control of conservative or center-right coalition governments, and many of the socialist governments in power in Europe would be considered on the far left of the American political spectrum.
That leftist dominance was most clearly on display last year when the EU effectively blackballed the government of Austria when an anti-immigrant rightist party was invited to join the government in Vienna. The sanctions, which were bitterly denounced in Austria, were quietly dropped six months later.
"In the final analysis," noted Pierre Moscovici, Frances minister for European issues, "Europe is the natural place for the expression of the progressive values that those on the left, whether Labor, Socialist or Social Democrat, all cherish."
Mr. Bush meets EU leaders today in the Swedish coastal city of Goteborg. After Mr. Bush leaves, EU leaders plan to stay behind for a two-day summit of their own.
Mr. Bushs Texas roots, oil-industry background and lack of personal relationships with top European leaders have clearly opened a cultural divide between the new president and Europes leftist elites.
"Many Europeans view Mr. Bush as a self-satisfied, execution-supporting president," noted the influential German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in a recent editorial. The new administration, the paper noted, is seen as being "so intoxicated with itself that it pays little or no heed to the concerns and interests of others."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose country has the largest population and the largest economy in the EU, is a Social Democrat who governs in coalition with Germanys Green Party.
The landslide victory of Britains Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair last week broke a long-standing pattern in which ideological shifts in the United States and Britain moved almost in lockstep, dating back to the elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan a year later.
In France, the third member of the EUs "Big Three," power is divided between Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and conservative President Jacques Chirac. Although on the right of the French political spectrum, Mr. Chirac has emerged as a leading skeptic within the EU of Mr. Bushs missile defense idea.
The press of recent headlines has only played up the ideological distance between the new president and his EU hosts.
Mondays execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was widely condemned in Europe, where abolishing the death penalty is prerequisite for joining the EU.
"Capital punishment has become a diplomatic problem for the United States," according to the leftist French daily Le Monde.
Mr. Bush will also have environmental issues and the future of the Kyoto global warming treaty at the top of the agenda. Mr. Bushs decision to scrap the treaty earlier this year met with widespread criticism across the continent.
The environment "is one of the issues where we disagree with the U.S., but nevertheless that is also why it is important to continue discussions about it," said Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh. Sweden currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
Some see the talk of a yawning cultural and ideological gap between Europe and the United States as overblown, with much of the European grumbling reflecting domestic political calculations and not fundamental disputes with the United States.
White House officials, briefing reporters before Mr. Bushs five-day trip, noted that none of the European leaders who visited Washington — including Messrs. Blair, Chirac and Schroeder — brought up the death penalty in their private discussions with Mr. Bush.
Opinion polls in a number of European countries, including France, show majority support for the death penalty even though the practice has been abolished.
The decisive victory last month of the conservative coalition headed by new Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also gives Mr. Bush a powerful new ally in EU councils.
Simon Serfaty, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said he believes the political winds have already shifted in Europe, with the center-left dominance of the 1990s giving way to a conservative comeback.
The low opinions and Texas caricatures greeting Mr. Bush are no different from the initial European elite perceptions of Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton, Mr. Serfaty said.
"Every president sets new standards of unpopularity until the next one comes along," he said. "President Clintons reputation was much worse off in 1993, and by the end the Europeans couldnt stand to see him go."

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