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U.S./EU: Summit To Discuss Thorny Issues

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The United States and the European Union hold their annual summit meeting today in Washington. U.S. President George W. Bush and a European team led by EU Commission President Romano Prodi have much to discuss -- not all of it positive. Differences divide the two sides on a wide range of issues, including trade, the antiterror campaign, and how best to deal with the Middle East conflict. But still the traditional bonds remain strong.

Prague, 2 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The world's two biggest economic entities, the United States and the European Union, hold their annual summit today at the White House in Washington.

U.S. President George W. Bush, along with his top advisers, plays host to an EU team comprising European Commission President Romano Prodi as well as Jose Maria Aznar -- prime minister of current EU president Spain -- and the EU's foreign and security policy chief, Javier Solana.

The going will undoubtedly be rough at some points. On trade and economy, the two sides are in dispute over U.S. steel quotas and genetically modified foods, as well as the perennial problem of agricultural subsidies.

Analyst John Palmer, who heads the European Policy Centre in Brussels, says these trade disputes -- though heated -- are not fundamentally worrying. He says trade frictions from time to time are inevitable, and both administrations contain highly paid experts whose job it is to contain and prevent them from getting out of hand.

But Palmer also says there are "very substantial differences" of a more important sort emerging on either side of the Atlantic. "More worrisome, I think, [than trade] is evidence of an underlying divergence of basic values and mission, I would put it, as far as the new global situation is concerned."

Explaining his assessment, Palmer describes the viewpoint of the U.S., as the world's only military superpower, as being that the unilateral, benevolent projection of its power is the best means of securing peace and stability in the world. By contrast, he says, the EU is more in favor of a system of global governance and the strengthening of the World Trade Organization, the new International Criminal Court, and the Kyoto environmental process to fight global warming.

In concrete terms, the two sides also have manifest differences in their approaches to the Mideast, both on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to a lesser extent on the question of what to do about Iraq. As Mike Emerson, an analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, puts it: "For the Middle East, it is quite clear that there are profound political differences of judgment or interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. [The question of ] Iraq is less clear because it is more distant as to what the [policy] scenario is."

Emerson says finding agreement on the central Middle East conflict will not be easy: "The domestic political pressures on both sides are very clear and explicit. Opinion polls are about 70-30 or 60-40 in [Europe] in favor of the Palestinians, or [in the United States] of the Israelis -- the opposite positions."

The U.S. views the solid support which Brussels gives to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as complicating U.S. efforts to end the terrorist violence in the Middle East. The European perspective is that Washington is too tolerant of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

As for Iraq, most European leaders are concerned at reports the U.S. may be preparing for a major attack on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as part of the campaign against terrorism. All in all, says analyst Emerson, "The summit should be an occasion -- will have to be an occasion -- for a full and frank exchange of views."

Despite the differences on these and numerous other topics, the two sides have gone out of their way to praise each other where possible, such as in the level of cooperation achieved in the general fight against terrorism since the 11 September attacks on the United States. Analyst Palmer has the last word: "The trans-Atlantic relationship is -- and should be -- a cornerstone of any global policy for development, and for peace and stability in the world, and historically we have shared and continue to share a very great deal in common."

In other words, the relationship is simply too important to be allowed to fail.