REVIEW: Article

The EU and The US: The Indispensable Partnership

Media reports of President George W. Bush’s February tour of Europe emphasized the friendly atmosphere of his discussions with European leaders, which have firmly taken the transatlantic relationship beyond any lingering differences over Iraq.

As a participant in several of those meetings, I can readily confirm that positive read-out. The President’s tour took place in an extremely positive atmosphere, with all appreciating the fact that the President selected Europe for the first foreign trip of his second term.

President Bush listened attentively and addressed key European concerns in both his private and public remarks. European Union (EU) leaders appreciated President Bush’s strong expression of support for the EU-3 (United Kingdom, France and Germany) negotiations with Iran. Following the President’s visit, EU leaders also were pleased by Secretary Rice’s firm declaration in support of an independent Palestinian State, and her elaboration of concrete United States (US) support for the EU-3 negotiations with Iran.   

These statements were of course made according to US interests, but many in Europe also noted that these positions had long been urged by EU leaders.

That progress in identifying and furthering specific areas of transatlantic cooperation is the underreported but equally important aspect of the President’s visit.  We were all reminded of the far-reaching scope and impact of the EU-US relationship, particularly as we work toward the next EU-US summit to be held in June. 

The President thanked the EU for its continuing efforts in the fight against terrorism. This is an area where much has been done both in the EU framework, for example in the application of the European Arrest Warrant, and through cooperation with the US in agreeing to a Mutual Extradition and Legal Assistance Treaty and in identifying sources of financing for terrorists. The Commission also has worked very well with the US Department of Homeland Security in the areas of border and transport security. For example, last year we agreed on how to improve container security and on the transfer of air passenger name records, while ensuring personal data is adequately protected. We also have worked closely with the US on improving air traffic security and on promoting higher security standards at airports, seaports and on ships.

On Iraq, the President received a practical commitment from the European Commission and EU member states to provide additional assistance for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, support for future elections and other technical training. The EU pledged around €1.2 billion in 2004. Of this, the European Commission was responsible for almost €320 million, and we will maintain a similar level of funding in 2005.

Discussions on assistance to Iraq might have advanced further had a functioning Iraqi government been in place, a step that will be required before some decisions can be taken.  The President’s visit did, however, lead to a joint EU-US commitment to organize a joint international conference if the new Iraq government requests one, and establish a forum for promoting and coordinating international relief aid to Iraq.   

The Middle East Peace Process was discussed as a crucial issue for both the EU and US as we look ahead. We both consider that peace prospects are better than they have been for a long time, and we are looking forward to working with the US and the other members of the so-called “Quartet” toward that end. The EU believes, in particular, that all parties should get back to implementation of the “Road Map” in moving toward the prospect of a negotiated two-state solution.  Lebanon was also a subject on which the two sides shared broad agreement.

Afghanistan represents a success story for EU-US cooperation, with much still to be done. The EU and US have worked very well together in providing for reconstruction and supporting the new government of President Karzai. However, we also agree that a number of critical problems remain, including combating drugs and lessening the power of the regional warlords.

Similarly, EU and US support of the democratic movement in the Ukraine helped make the Orange Revolution possible, with much yet to be done. Some of our American friends have suggested that the Ukraine’s next goal may be EU membership.  Here I would note that, while the EU does already have a wide-ranging Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Ukraine and has offered a considerably closer relationship in the context of the new “European Neighborhood” policy, the EU is not considering any offer of membership to Ukraine. 

As a work still very much in progress, the European integration project, to be successful, must inspire a sense of allegiance on the part of its citizens, complementing their national identities. The requirements of EU membership and the allegiance it inspires cannot be artificially accelerated. 

On Russia, the EU and US share an analysis of common concern regarding a number of recent developments. The centralization of political power clearly weighs against the checks and balances that are essential for democracy, and the use of public economic resources for private gain invalidates the rule of law.  At the same time, Russia is an important economic partner for both the EU and the US, and has played a helpful role in such areas as counterterrorism. We also must be realistic regarding our ability to influence Russia’s internal politics.  

Though it was not highlighted in subsequent reports, President Bush also addressed EU-US trade and particularly efforts to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses operating in both markets, currently the subject of an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic. This is not surprising as our trade is $1 trillion a year and mutual investment is even more important. US firms make a lot of their profit in Europe, and European firms make a lot of their profit in the United States. 

Of course, the EU and US will continue to have disagreements on some issues, which must be addressed through calm discussion—via the telephone and not the megaphone.  The EU realizes that the EU’s China arms embargo is of great concern to the US. While those concerns are recognized, we hope that discussion on this issue will be based on accurate information. 

The embargo was imposed by the European Council in 1989 following the events in Tiananmen Square. In 1998, it was joined by a “Code of Conduct,” which is being strengthened and would guide EU Member States’ export practice should lifting take place. It is important to note that many of the issues of concern to the US, for example technology potentially related to command and control systems, is not addressed by the arms embargo, but rather by the Code of Conduct, which is being revised and on which US views are welcome. 

For the EU, the visa waiver program of the US is problematic as it does not yet extend to the new EU Member States.  While recognizing the sensitive nature of this issue, we have asked that a solution be found at the EU level, and appreciate the promise of President Bush that this will be done as quickly as possible.  The very premise of the EU is that all citizens should be treated equally. 

Climate change is another issue where the EU and US recently have failed to agree. EU leaders were thus pleased when President Bush raised the issue in the context of new technologies for more efficient and cleaner energy consumption, including clean coal, ethanol and the development of hydrogen and other cell technologies. While such discussion is welcome, we should not take our eyes off the immediate goal of reducing fuel usage and carbon-based emissions.  Any new technologies should lead to bottom-line gains in our fuel efficiency, and not simply keeping pace with use of larger SUVs. 

I have focused on the issues discussed while the President visited EU headquarters in Brussels. Of course, he also visited the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters and several European capitals. Here I would only note that the EU is implementing the core elements of its 2003 security strategy and is increasing in defense capabilities, taking the lead most recently in the United Nations-mandated peacekeeping mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina after the successful conclusion of NATO’s Stabilization Force (SFOR) operations.

In sum, the transatlantic agenda is very full and is being addressed in a more positive atmosphere. Building on the positive results of President Bush’s recent visit, and looking forward to the June EU-US summit, the transatlantic relationship will indeed continue to serve as the “indispensable partnership” in the promotion of peace, stability and democracy.

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Head of Delegation, Delegation of the European Commission to the United States