- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 12, 2005

President Bush’s re-election and the successful vote in Iraq have had a profound effect on public opinion in Europe, with expectations soaring for Mr. Bush’s trip there later this month, a leading member of the European Parliament says.

Spanish center-right lawmaker Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca, a vice president of the European Parliament, said Mr. Bush’s trip to Belgium, Germany and Slovakia — the first foreign trip of his second term — could mark a sharp break with recent public and elite hostility in Europe over the Iraq war and other U.S. policies.

“A trip like this could not have happened three, even two years ago,” said Mr. Vidal-Quadras in an interview during a trip to Washington this week. “The atmosphere in some countries was just too hostile.

“But Mr. Bush’s win and the mostly successful vote in Iraq — neither of which most people in Europe expected — have made the attitude much more conciliatory.”

Expectations are so high, he added, “that the real danger we might face is disappointing people’s hopes if something substantive is not achieved on the trip.”



Mr. Bush travels to Brussels for a Feb. 22 summit with leaders from NATO and the European Union. He also plans to meet with two of the most vocal opponents of the Iraq war — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a one-day summit in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Mr. Bush’s first term was marked by severe disagreements with leading EU powers, not only over Iraq, but also over U.S. opposition to the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto global warming treaty, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues.

European public opinion surveys showed a deep dislike for Mr. Bush and a widespread hope that Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry would unseat him.

But new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earned warm-to- glowing reviews on her fence-mending tour through Europe this week. She called for trans-Atlantic unity and for putting the divisions over Iraq in the past.

“The times are different now than they were a year or two ago when we did have our differences, not with everyone, but with a number of states,” Miss Rice said in a visit to Belgium on Wednesday.

“We do have a common agenda, now that the war or the major military operations are behind us, now that we are facing the fact of an Iraqi people who are taking risks of their own for the democratic future,” she said.

Peter Mandelson, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said in a Washington speech yesterday that Miss Rice had made a “strong and positive impression.”

“It’s time to bury our political differences on Iraq and work together — Europe and America — on a positive international agenda,” Mr. Mandelson said. “There are enough challenges before us that we cannot solve acting on our own.”

A columnist in the British leftist newspaper Guardian observed of Miss Rice’s tour that, “after a long, trying estrangement, Europe felt loved again.”

Mr. Vidal-Quadras said few in Europe expect Mr. Bush to reverse course on contentious issues such as Iraq.

But, he said, the more cooperative rhetoric from Miss Rice could be matched by closer coordination on Iraq and the Middle East in the coming months and by a wide-ranging trade and economic package that could be prepared for the annual U.S.-EU summit this summer.

Mr. Vidal-Quadras, a physicist by profession, is allied with the center-right European People’s Party bloc in the European Parliament.

Many in Europe, he said, predicted that Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections would be a disaster, and the heavy turnout and “great success” of the vote took many by surprise.

“Nobody thought [the vote] was even possible at this time,” he said.

Large majorities in most European countries “still do not believe the Iraq war was the correct decision,” he added.

“They are not ready to say President Bush was right, but the election in Iraq has made many people more willing to change their thinking about the road ahead,” he said.

Big policy fights still loom.

The Kyoto accord has entered into force despite Washington’s opposition, and the European Union remains a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court, which the Bush administration opposes.

EU states also are poised to lift the bloc’s embargo on arms sales to China, despite the Bush administration’s opposition.

The United States also has urged a much tougher line on Iran’s nuclear programs than many in Europe favor.

But Mr. Vidal-Quadras said the vastly improved tone and atmospherics of the U.S.-EU relationship present a great opportunity for progress.

“We have always had periods of tension in U.S.-European relationships, but these past few years have been particularly difficult,” he said. “And when our trans-Atlantic relationship is not working well, the whole world is in a shambles.”

Jeffrey Sparshott contributed to this report.

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