- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

BERLIN, Germany.

Today’s annual U.S.-EU summit in Washington comes at an unpromising time. “Working together as global partners” is the slogan for the meeting of top EU representatives and 25 national leaders with the U.S. president.

President George W. Bush seems ready to work closely with the Europeans. “We cannot afford any longer an inward-looking Europe, as well as the world can not afford an isolated U.S.,” emphasized Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, on a recent summit preparatory trip to Europe. True, but how far from the current situation.

The European Union is so polarized its future and that of its single currency, the euro, may be at stake. The rejection of the EU constitution by voters in both France and the Netherlands opened Pandora’s box. Some Italian conservatives immediately called for a return to the lira and abandonment of the euro that “proved inadequate in the face of the economic slowdown, the loss of competitiveness and the job crisis,” as Italian Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni claimed.

Britain announced indefinite suspension of its referendum. London also made clear it is clinging to a rebate for its EU membership so long as EU agriculture subsidies are not cut.

France gets most out of the agriculture honey pot and, of course, won’t accept any reductions. Germany backs France in principle while accusing British Prime Minister Tony Blair of being “unfair.” Germany basically pays the British EU rebate and wants its contributions reduced. Italy insists on more aid for its poor southern region.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Further integration may well prove impossible, or rather too expensive. Moreover, because of EU member states’ fear of a mass immigration of Muslims, Turkey may end up left out of the club. After 55 years, the new Europe has plunged itself into a deep crisis. It’s impossible to say who is to blame.

Can the EU be the serious partner needed the United States needs for urgent issues such as fighting international terrorism, “working closely together on the promotion of democracy, on the stabilization of Iraq and countering new threats,” as termed in official papers of both sides?

What can really be discussed and resolved in one day, with a crammed plenary agenda where leaders will discuss promoting economic growth, environment and energy issues? During a working lunch, they will exchange views on promoting democracy, freedom and the rule of law, effective multilateralism — including reform of the United Nations, development and humanitarian aid — and touch on security issues such as nonproliferation, counterterrorism and transport and border security. In other words, there will be no chance to seriously discuss a single important issue.

But that’s not what these kind of summits are about. It can be expected Europe and the U.S. today will adopt joint declarations on the aforementioned issues. In addition, the summit may agree on steps to “enhance EU-U.S. cooperation on conflict prevention and crisis response,” diplomatic sources say. In other words: joint military actions. Any such agreement would be an important signal for the international conference on Iraq, co-hosted by the EU and the U.S. on Wednesday in Brussels. But I doubt Europe can offer more than lip service. Sadly enough, this summit will prove a waste of money.

Therefore, it unfortunately is most important for the United States to again alter its political stance toward Europe.

It is ironic President Bush has been blamed by the press, pundits and many of the public for ignoring “Europe’s opinion,” especially at the beginning of the Iraq invasion.

French and German public opinion, fueled by an unbelievably biased press, is convinced more than ever that if President Bush had not acted “unilaterally” in March 2003, Europe would be standing at his side — at least more so than at present.

Though some Europeans, such as the British, Italians and Polish, committed troops to Iraq, those contingents are individual contributions, not an EU commitment.

After his re-election, President Bush followed the advice of “concerned” U.S. State Department diplomats and made his first trip to Europe, visited Brussels and met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac. He struck a clear, very conciliatory note.

“Together we can once again set history on a hopeful course,” he said, urging the EU to help reconstruct Iraq, saying he wanted a partnership with a united Europe.

Strangely enough, Europe since seems to have fallen apart. Now that the American president is no longer the focus of the European press and public opinion, now that Europeans are not distracted and have gone back to their own business, the EU is more polarized than ever over key issues.

The rifts risk blocking integration or splintering the EU. There is no united Europe for Mr. Bush to “work with in partnership.” Europe’s deep crisis can only result in more intense bilateral relations, at least until there is a European Union worthy of the name. That won’t happen in President Bush’s second term.

Recent examples of bilateral diplomacy’s concrete results: France cooperated with the U.S. to get Syria out of Lebanon. The U.S. and Poland made a major joint contribution to solving last December’s election crisis in Ukraine.

Germans call that Realpolitik.

Tom Goeller is a correspondent of The Washington Times in Berlin, Germany.

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