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EU Enlargement Seen as a Chance and a Challenge by the Atlantic Community - 2004-04-01

On May 1 the European Union will admit 10 new members – eight former communist states and two Mediterranean islands, Malta and Cyprus. How will this radical expansion affect Europe’s political and economic relations with the United States? Will it help or complicate the common task of assuring global stability and peace? How will the new EU members change Europe’s strategic priorities? Those issues were the subject of a recent Washington conference organized by the William Davidson Institute and the European Union Center at the University of Michigan.

During the six decades of the Cold War the United States encouraged European integration, assuming that a united Europe acting together would be a better economic partner and political ally. After the fall of communism American leaders continued this support. Speaking at Warsaw University in 2001 President George W. Bush said: “My nation welcomes the consolidation of European unity, and the stability it brings. We welcome a greater role for the EU in European security, properly integrated with NATO.”

But controversy over the war in Iraq showed some European countries are ready to challenge American leadership. According to recent polls, nearly 90% of the French and 70% of the Germans believe Europe should chart a more independent course in security and foreign policy. Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State and one of the organizers of a recent Washington conference, said both sides stand to lose if they try to exploit their current differences: “In the United States there are some very influential people who think that America should capitalize on and encourage Europe’s divisions so it will not emerge as a rival. In Europe there are some who argue that the whole point of European unity and enlargement is to balance the power of the United States. In my view both attitudes are self-defeating, foolhardy, irresponsible, shortsighted, dangerous, stupid and wrong. Or to put it another way, I disagree.”

In Madeleine Albright’s view American-European relations are at a pivotal point, not only because of Iraq but also because of disputes on such issues as trade, environment, arms control and the role of international organizations. But the former Secretary of State believes America and Europe still belong on the same side in fighting global terror, promoting democracy and securing peace.

Joseph Biden, Democratic U.S. senator from Delaware and a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is confident European integration is good for America. He pointed out that both sides of the Atlantic are undergoing dramatic transformations, and, in his words, “we don’t have it quite right yet.” But he said mutual interests still bind America and Europe, because “even if our values have diverged on the margins, our interests at the moment are exactly the same.”

Senator Biden dismissed American worries that a united Europe will present a serious political challenge to the United States or will try to compete with it militarily. Addressing the Europeans, he said: “I am not worried about your coordinated foreign policy. You won’t have one. I am not worried about the idea you will have a major military force that is going to be able to act on its own. I hope you do, I wish you well. Until you start spending money, you are not going to be able to. And I see no evidence that it is likely to happen.” Senator Biden called on both sides to forget their differences and deal with two critical issues: the fight against terror and stabilizing Iraq. But as the Washington conference showed, differences remain. Some Americans complained about European lack of gratitude for the U.S. role in rebuilding Europe after World War II and guaranteeing its security during the Cold War.

Congressman Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations said Europeans seem to forget how often America has come to their rescue. “As a new Europe decides its future course increasingly without us,” said Congressman Hyde, “its leaders and citizens would do well to remember that the truth and the forces, which have repeatedly brought disaster in the past, still slumber within.”

Another speaker, Tom Lantos, a Hungarian-born Democratic representative from California, said anti-American sentiments sweeping some European countries offend the memory of Americans who gave their life for Europe’s freedom. “There are no European military cemeteries in the United States,” he said, “but there are American military cemeteries in Europe. That is a very deep fact, which no current European politician can erase.”

In Congressman Lantos’ view the recent acrimonies have destroyed the emotional bond between America and Europe, but this disillusionment may, paradoxically, become the foundation of a new, more realistic partnership. He believes the new relations will be “less emotional, certainly non-sentimental, certainly rational, and in many ways cold-blooded.”

Recent polls show that although European publics are critical of American policies, their view of the American people remains quite favorable. Madeleine Albright replied to Congressman Lantos that in her opinion responsibility for the present rancor is equally shared, and that “it is also the responsibility of the United States to listen to what our friends and allies have to say.”

Günter Burghardt, EU ambassador in Washington, assured the conference no member will have to choose between Europe and America. “Whatever we did in Europe from its inception,” he said, “had a transatlantic dimension. I do not believe in the suggestions of the choice that countries like Poland and others have to make between being European and Atlanticist.”

Ambassador Burghardt said the new, enlarged European Union would allow more stable and stronger transatlantic relations. Other participants noted that Europe’s leaders should clarify their position toward their American ally and refrain from vague remarks that stir unnecessary concern in the United States. Polls show that despite disagreements and mutual accusations, a majority of Americans still believe the partnership between the United States and Europe should remain as close as it has been in the past. But most analysts agree that with America – a sole global superpower – and the EU stretching over almost whole of the European continent, both sides are entering a new, more complicated phase in their relationship.