- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

The president of the United States and the current president of the European Union met in Washington yesterday to improve and strengthen a partnership that has been severely challenged by the U.S. war effort in Iraq. With Washington engaged in the Middle East for more than four years, it comes as no surprise that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, holding the EU’s rotating presidency, was calling the shots. Recognizing that it is impossible to single-handedly solve the miasma of conflicts and confrontations ranging from independence-minded Kosovo to tribal warfare and nuclear ambitions in the Middle East and North Korea, and topped by threats from radical Islam and transnational terrorism, the frustrated Euro-Atlantic partners are shifting gears.

Given the interconnectedness of the various security threats of the 21st century endangering the West and global stability, a coherent, credible strategy by the leadership of the alliance emerges as a necessity. By now it has become obvious, America may well be the indispensable nation, but Europe has been and will remain our indispensable partner. In their mutual endeavor to upgrade this long productive and competitive relationship, founded on fundamental values, civilizational heritage, similar economic systems and security interests, the participants came up with some fresh changes designed to tighten their linkage in the economic sector.

The focus is on what the “U.S. and the EU can do together,” commented Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns.

The 2007 U.S.-EU summit, midwifed in 1990, became Angela Merkel’s show. Considering that 60 percent of world trade is generated in the transatlantic region, the staunch Atlanticist decided to beef up transatlantic economic integration by breaking down regulatory walls. Though initially ridiculed by bureaucrats and protectionists, her concept of a framework for a barrier-free transatlantic economic zone features cuts in costly regulations intended to increase the EU’s annual gross national product by about 2.5 percent and that of the U.S. by almost 2 percent. It was easily adopted during the Washington summit.

Allowing that many regard trade barriers as a response to globalism, Mrs. Merkel’s vision may not result in an Atlantic Free Trade zone that was under discussion in the early 1990s. However, by founding a Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), headed on both sides by ministerial-level appointees with cabinet rank, Mrs. Merkel certainly has created a structure that promises to advance the process of transatlantic economic integration. Given the fact that the two TEC leaders are slated to be political appointees, a political commitment informed by political objectives is to be expected. It’s a big goal.

Squabbles between Boeing and Airbus aside, the participants welcomed the signing of a first-stage Air Transport Agreement, liberalizing transatlantic air travel, that had been under discussion for four years. Debated also was the expansion of the American Visa Waiver Program to all 27 European countries and U.S. citizens. Furthermore, the summit reaffirmed a strong desire to reach prompt agreement on the WTO Doha Development Agenda negotiations focused on customs to jump-start new trade flows in agriculture, industrial goods and services among developed and developing countries.

The declaration on political and security issues, though changed in tone, reflects a lack of EU leadership at highest levels, as well as Washington’s perception that Europe could do more. Open commitments to concrete actions strengthening liberty, prosperity, security peace and human rights from Kosovo to Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, along with the combat of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, suggest that Europe, old and new, expects to be taken seriously as an activist global actor. But the EU’s present internal rift over the American missile shield program in Central Europe, certainly raises the question of when and under what circumstances the Europeans will be in a position to speak with one voice.

As anticipated, the sticky wicket proved to be the one of Mrs. Merkel’s foremost projects: the contentious global warming issue. Widely respected for her recent victory in climate protection when she managed to persuade 27 EU governments to cut greenhouse emissions by 20 percent and produce one-fifth of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, the intrepid chancellor used that prestige at the summit. A brief joint statement on energy security and climate change merely underlines a “mutual interest” in ensuring secure, affordable and clean supplies of energy by advancing new technologies.

As expected the missile shield issue, vehemently opposed by Russia with threats of canceling the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), did not find a place on the agenda scripted for the energy-dependent Europe.

Bolstered by a respectable economic recovery at home and cordial relations with President Bush, Chancellor Merkel is not only championing the resurrection of a scaled-down European Constitution, but a cohesive Europe to enter the global scene in a leading role in the context of a Euro-American partnership.

The summit’s transatlantic economic integration represents a significant first step in that direction. Still, with a globally overstretched NATO as an instrument of Western security interests in an identity crisis, this is not enough. Urgently needed is a Euro-American political link, structured along the lines of the new Transatlantic Economic Council. Such an entity would enable the two parties to address upcoming opportunities and problems before they turn into political crises and open hostilities on a regular basis. It has been said that annual EU-U.S. summits are of little importance because they lack decision-making power.

Under Angela Merkel’s leadership, the summit of 2007 exuded clout.

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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