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President Bush Reaches Out to Europeans

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During the first international trip of his second term, President Bush is holding a series high level meetings with European leaders, including French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Daniel Hamilton, director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, says the main goal is to set up a new list of priorities in American-European relations.

"I think the challenge is to create enough of a positive agenda for the relationship in a number of areas where we could work together so that we can deal with the more negative issues in the relationship in a different way — in a more manageable, businesslike way."   High on the agenda, says Professor Hamilton, should be promoting democracy along the eastern border of the enlarged European Union.  "In Europe, the revolution in Ukraine and earlier in Georgia, have opened up a whole new vista of positive transatlantic cooperation in what one might call wider Europe."

Jeff Anderson, director of the Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, agrees that the Ukrainian precedent should encourage old and new allies to foster peace and stability beyond their own borders. 

"The so called New Europe, particularly Poland, played an extremely important role as a mediator in helping to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. I see this as a very positive sign.  One would hope that diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic would be trying to build on these successes," says Mr. Anderson.

But analysts point out that America and Europe look on many key issues in a radically different way.  They disagree on the strategy to cope with Iran's nuclear threat, on the sources of terrorism, on the application of international law and on the environment.  Over strong U-S objections the European Union recently announced plans to lift the arms embargo on China. Ivo Daalder of Washington's Brookings Institution says that in all these cases Europe has largely ignored America's interests, just as America has ignored Europe's.

"Europe has changed in dramatic ways. One, it is assertive. It has stood up and said: We don't care, frankly, whether you disagree with us. We are going to do it anyway. Second, Europe is larger and more united than ever. It is on the verge of adopting a constitution that will give it an even stronger voice in foreign policy and a more united voice than it had in the past," says Mr. Daalder.

But both sides of the Atlantic seem to realize that a permanent breakup could seriously weaken their role in world affairs. John Hulsman of the Heritage Foundation says Americans and Europeans are still each other's best-matched partners.

"There is simply nowhere else in the world that I can find five or six great powers to work with on any given issue at any given time. And that's the point: We are stuck together by common interests, by shared values. Despite all the tensions and all the differences, talking to a European about liberty is still very different from talking to anybody else in the world," says Mr. Hulsman.

After her recent trip to Europe, U-S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said America's European allies are "ready to look beyond any disagreements that we may have had in the past to our common future."  But analysts note this may require more than polite diplomatic language and the symbolism of high-level handshakes.  Europeans clearly want to be included in the decision-making process concerning global affairs.  They show they no longer consider themselves junior partners in the transatlantic team.  In fact, say analysts, both sides look at one another with very similar expectations — they want a proof that their partners are ready to reckon with their distinct outlooks and interests.

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