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What Kind of Europe …

8 minute read
James Graff

Like any savvy traveler who finds himself in hostile territory, George W. Bush tends to seek out safe havens when he comes to Europe. In November 2003, as the insurgents’ reign of terror was taking hold in Iraq, the President ventured as far as Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Queen greeted him warmly; Bush never went near the streets full of protesters, let alone the Continent. Last June, before visiting Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-day, he dropped in on his ally Silvio Berlusconi in Rome — and the demonstrations were no less virulent. But this week, Bush is meeting the stroppiest of America’s allies head on. In Brussels — the heart of the European Union and refusenik central for Washington’s aggressive plan to rein in terrorists and bring democracy to the Middle East — he meets all 25 leaders of the E.U. member states, and dines with the refusenik in chief, French President Jacques Chirac. He promenades along the Rhine with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, then moves on to Bratislava to exchange views, and perhaps a few soulful glances, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The smiles are sure to be broad, the backslapping hearty and, after the surprising success of Iraq’s election, the leaders share more common ground than they have in years. Germany is training 500 Iraqi soldiers in the United Arab Emirates, and France says it is ready to train gendarmes. European soldiers are keeping the peace in Afghanistan, and even a Bush critic like Schröder knows that transatlantic cooperation is essential. “Most problems we are grappling with today can and will be solved only through real partnership with the U.S.,” the German Chancellor told Time (see interview).

But no one has forgotten that deep differences remain. Last week, the Kyoto protocol on climate change came into effect without the support of America, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases. The International Criminal Court, which the E.U. considers an ideal forum to deal with the slaughter in Darfur, is opposed by the U.S. And major disagreements persist over how best to stymie Iran’s apparent intention to develop nuclear weapons, whether to lift the arms embargo on China, whether to sanction Syria for occupying Lebanon and aiding Iraqi insurgents and Hezbollah terrorists, and whether Europe should brand Hezbollah itself a terrorist organization. At the core of many of these issue is a basic bone of contention: whether foreign policy should be conducted with a carrot or a stick. But with the U.S. feeling the need for allies and the E.U. feeling its oats as a global player, European leaders have an even simpler question: Is America ready to treat the E.U. as more than an inconvenient obstacle? “It has to be a balanced relationship,” European Commission President José Manuel Barroso told the Wall Street Journal . “We need to be an equal partner.”

Some Bush allies argue that American interests are best served when Europe is divided, and that the U.S. is well advised to cherry-pick the European states that support it — and ignore the rest. “We should be agnostic, not cheerleaders, about the faith-based project of European integration,” says John Hulsman, a neoconservative analyst for the Heritage Foundation in Washington. But that’s a stingy view of what the E.U.’s projection of soft power has achieved. The goal of E.U. membership has compelled Turkey to abolish the death penalty, rein in its military and grant cultural rights to the Kurds. That same prospect has moved Croatia to give up eight war-crimes suspects, although failure to deliver another key suspect, General Ante Gotovina, will likely lead to postponement of E.U. talks. Even Serbia recently turned over General Vladimir Lazarevic, suspected of war crimes in Kosovo. And the lure of E.U. membership is also casting its spell over former Soviet satellites such as Ukraine, where President Viktor Yushchenko is pushing a reform agenda meant to win candidate status as soon as possible. The E.U.’s power doesn’t come across with shock and awe, but it is a potent force just the same.

The E.U. and the U.S. agree that promoting democracy and combatting tyranny are goals best achieved by working together. But the means to those ends often seem to come from completely different universes. Will President Bush gain a new appreciation for the E.U.’s way of doing things from his four-day stay on Planet Europe? Here’s a look at three issues on which the U.S. and E.U. could actually learn something from each other.

IRAQ The Bush Administration used to think that nation building was beneath it; now it’s clear that the creation of a civil society is crucial to stability in Iraq. That happens to be a European speciality. In Slovakia, Bosnia and the Caucasus, the E.U. has created civil, judicial and political institutions, from agricultural advice bureaus to customs inspectors. Can it work in Iraq? Germany and France, among others, have now promised to forgive some of the country’s debt, and the E.U. is launching a training program for some 800 top Iraqi law-enforcement and justice officials.Good things happen when soft and hard power — carrot and stick — are used in tandem. That’s what some 50 foreign-policy experts from both sides of the Atlantic proposed last week. They fashioned a “compact” of compromises on the most recalcitrant issues dividing the U.S. and the E.U., starting with Iraq. As part of a grand barter, the Europeans would step up training, increase spending on reconstruction from $300 million to $1 billion for 2005, and write off half the country’s debt; in exchange, the U.S. would give Europe a role in determining Iraq’s economic and political future. Artful compromises were proposed for everything from the International Criminal Court to the China arms embargo to negotiations with Iran. Yet the American signatories to the compact, many of whom were advisers to Democrats Bill Clinton or John Kerry, say the White House isn’t interested. “Bush is really working on the Middle East, but otherwise he’s not addressing the central policy differences with Europe,” says Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution, who coordinated the initiative. “The core belief of this Administration is, ‘What we could get from the Europeans is so minor that it’s not worth it to compromise.'”

IRAN That may not be true of Iran, where the transatlantic divide is perhaps less deep than it seems. On this issue, Gordon’s policy mavens suggested the U.S. should openly support the European negotiations with Tehran — if the Europeans commit to imposing penalties if Iran doesn’t end its efforts to complete the nuclear fuel cycle. There’s room for collaboration here since Washington is not gearing up for war. “I think the Germans are persuaded that the U.S. is not going to bomb Iran,” says Elizabeth Pond, editor of IP, an English-language quarterly published by the German Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s not like before the Iraq war, when there was a plan to go to war and Washington was marching toward it.” That allows for a coordinated diplomatic effort, where a good copbad cop routine could get results.

THE BALKANS The former Yugoslavia is one place where E.U. power is starting to come into its own. It took American resolve to rout the Serbs in Bosnia in 1995, and American planes to bomb them out of Kosovo in 1999, but NATO’s formerly 60,000-strong security force in Bosnia is long gone. In its place is a peacekeeping operation of 7,000 European troops under E.U. control. “The Balkans are divided into two groups: those who will become E.U. members soon and those who won’t,” says Gerald Knaus, head of the European Stability Initiative, a Berlin think tank. The prospect of membership “gives a big boost to reform. For Albania, Bosnia and Serbia, the incentive is much weaker as long as membership remains vague.”

Bush clearly wants to make a fresh start with the E.U., and many Europeans hope this visit sets a new tone. But the second Bush Administration “hasn’t had its first crisis yet,” observes a senior British official. The atmosphere Bush establishes this week will help determine how both sides react when it does.

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