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EU: Europe Concerned About Bush's 'Unilateral' Approach

  • Ron Synovitz

U.S. President George W. Bush leaves today on his first official trip to Europe. During the five-day tour, Western European leaders are expected to raise concerns about what they perceive as unilateralism from Washington. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz examines the concerns and how Bush is preparing to respond.

Prague, 11 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- As President George W. Bush prepares to leave today on his first official trip to Europe, there are concerns among Western Europeans that the administration in Washington has been pushing ahead with its own agenda without regard for the views of its allies.

European leaders are expected to voice those concerns with Bush on 14 June, when he attends a U.S.-European Union summit in Gothenburg, Sweden.

European Commission President Romano Prodi raised the issue today during a rare appearance at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, where he spoke of his expectations for the summit.

"We are hoping that the United States will continue to play an active role in our partnership and that the United States will be able to resist the temptation of protectionism and unilateralism."

Prodi stressed that the EU considers it unacceptable for Washington to take a unilateral approach at a time when Europe is playing a greater role in international issues.

"Europe will talk with the United States on terms as equal partners because Europe is already becoming more authoritative and assertive on the stage of world politics."

Prodi's comments came after a denial on 8 June by Bush's national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, that there are serious tensions between Washington and Brussels over the administration's handling of foreign relations. Rice says Bush's visit will improve trans-Atlantic ties.

"The [EU] summit is an opportunity to provide better definition and impetus to our common agenda with the EU -- including the launch of a new trade round, addressing the scourge of contagious diseases like HIV/AIDS, [and] exploring the different approaches to meeting our common goal of addressing [global] climate change."

But Rice's denial that there are problems in U.S. relations with the EU was seen by some Western European officials as yet another sign that the Bush administration is ignoring their views on security and trade issues.

Unlike Bush's conservative administration, a majority of the 15 EU member states today are led by either left or center-left governments. Some of their leaders have expressed dismay over the way Bush unilaterally rejected the Kyoto Protocol on global emissions standards three months ago.

Some of the United States' European allies also are concerned about the way Washington has insisted on pushing forward with a plan for a missile defense system despite opposition from them as well as from Russia and China.

Recent visits to Europe by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have failed to convince the 18 other nations in NATO that there is a real need for such an expensive and untested system.

There also are concerns that the missile defense system could trigger a new nuclear arms race by making the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty obsolete.

The Bush administration has responded by saying that it may create a sea-based missile defense system on its own if European allies refuse to support the plan.

Some European officials say they are shocked by what they consider Bush's brash handling of sensitive international issues. In a speech in Washington last week, Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine of France -- the United States' longtime chief adversary within the Western alliance -- said America's status as what he calls a "hyper-power" is dangerous. He said it could lead the Bush administration to think that its power means it does not have to negotiate with its allies.

Chris Patten, the EU commissioner for external relations, told the European Parliament last month that he is concerned Washington could be retreating into unilateralism. Patten also said the Bush administration must be persuaded to maintain its multilateral commitments.

Tom Daschle, the Democratic Party's new Senate majority leader, last week warned Bush (on U.S. TV) that his approach to foreign policy could harm U.S.-European relations. Daschle said Bush needs to listen to the Europeans on issues like global warming rather than treat them in what he called an "adamant" and "dogmatic" manner.

It's a warning that Bush and his advisers appear to be heeding. Today, just before he leaves for Europe, Bush is due to preview a plan to spend millions of dollars on research into the causes of global warming, due to be announced during his meeting with EU leaders on 14 June.

Bush's aides say he will continue to reject the Kyoto Protocol on global emissions. But the research initiative is the administration's first detailed response to the criticism from Europe that followed his decision to abandon the Kyoto document.

Some analysts say tensions over the missile defense issue have been easing since Washington started to consult its NATO allies. The issue has been defused by the Republican Party's loss of control of the U.S. Senate -- a development that suggests there will be no immediate approval of the defense system.

Nevertheless, Bush is expected to urge European support for the plan when he visits NATO headquarters in Brussels on 13 June.

On 15 June, Bush is due to make a major speech in Warsaw on U.S.-Europe relations. He also may touch on the planned enlargement of the EU to include 10 Central and Eastern European nations.

The following day (16 June), Bush is likely to attempt to ease Russia's concerns about missile defense during a two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana.