- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

European officials on a visit to Washington have sought to ease fears that a European constitution will turn the continent into a political and military rival to the United States.

Addressing a conference at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, the European officials noted rising concern on this side of the Atlantic as the European Union moves toward closer consolidation and discussions about raising an independent military force.

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“Doubts about America’s attitude towards a political, and especially military, union in Europe have recently emerged on this side of the Atlantic,” said Lamberto Dini, vice president of the Italian Senate and former prime minister.

Guenter Burghardt, the permanent representative of the European Commission in Washington, said a school of thinking in the United States “tends to greet new European initiatives with a mixture of ambivalence, trepidation and skepticism.”

Much of that anxiety is directed toward a new EU constitution that was drafted between February 2002 and June 2003 by a European Convention chaired by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing. Negotiators hope the draft will be approved at the Brussels European Council in December.

A compromise still has to be found among the 15 European member states and the 10 countries that will join the union in May. After that, the text must be approved by the individual countries.

John Bruton, an Irish member of Parliament and prime minister between 1994 and 1997, said he did not consider the draft text as a threat to trans-Atlantic relations since it doesn’t make the European Union a superstate.

He said the union would be “simply a cooperative arrangement between states” with no specific rights to raise taxes, run a budget deficit or raise a military force.

He described the constitution as an effort “to formally lay down overall norms and structures to govern day-to-day EU legislation.”

“I do not think we should conflate the European Union’s desire to have a constitution with any EU ambition to become a world power,” he said.

Mr. Dini said the constitution will make the European Union “a partner on an equal footing with the United States” and “create a more solid foundation for legitimizing the use of force.”

He said the constitution also will enable the union “to cooperate even more effectively with the United States in tackling the new threats,” such as terrorism.

“If Europe takes a more coherent posture in world affairs, and develops more streamlined decision-making processes, it could work more efficiently with the United States to tackle crises in real time,” Mr. Burghardt said.

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