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EU Report Warns Against Losing Ground With U.S.

  • RFE/RL

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton (shown here with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left) warns that Washington Washington is “increasingly looking to new partners to address old and new problems.”

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton (shown here with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left) warns that Washington Washington is “increasingly looking to new partners to address old and new problems.”

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on European leaders to develop a coherent, common foreign policy in order to prevent the United States from turning away from Europe.

Ashton's call was contained in a five-page report on EU-U.S. relations presented at an EU summit meeting in Brussels on December 17, along with assessments of the bloc’s relationships with China and Russia.

Ashton was appointed in November 2009 to lead efforts to coordinate the union’s foreign affairs but has faced criticism from European governments for her performance to date.

The paper on EU-U.S. ties is an indication that Ashton considers regaining influence in Washington a priority.

The document, obtained by "The Guardian" and the "International Herald Tribune," warns: "Conversely, if we overpromise and underdeliver, if we prioritize process over substance or if we don't know what we want, the U.S. will turn its attention elsewhere."

Ashton says Europe is “no longer the main strategic preoccupation” of U.S. foreign policy and that Washington is “increasingly looking to new partners to address old and new problems.”

Felt Snubbed

The strategic interests of the United States and Europe are in many ways closely aligned, and the EU and the United States have the biggest bilateral trading and investment relationship. But Europe has felt snubbed in recent years.

"We can best exert our influence vis-à-vis the U.S. by ensuring a unified, capable, and self-confident EU.
In one recent example, U.S. President Barack Obama canceled his participation in an EU-U.S. summit meeting in Madrid last May.

Meanwhile, U.S. skepticism toward Europe has strengthened with the global financial crisis and economic downturn. Europe's uncoordinated responses have served to prove the belief, shared by some in Washington, that Europe lacks a leader. And many European leaders continue to push for austerity plans to bring debt under control, while the Obama administration has called for stimulus spending.

Ashton argues that inefficiency and divisions on various issues have hampered the bloc’s ability to influence Washington. "When we are an efficient and reliable partner," she says, "the U.S. takes us seriously."

"We can best exert our influence vis-à-vis the U.S. by ensuring a unified, capable, and self-confident EU," she adds.

European Commission President Manuel Barroso touched on the issue at a press conference following the two-day summit.

"Both the European Union and member states need to act in a more coordinated way to increase our weight in strategic negotiations," he said. "We also need to improve synergies between our policies, including the external dimension of our internal policies. It is important to define main objectives and secure the best tradeoffs for the whole European Union."

Repackage Policies


Ashton insists the EU can play a role in helping the United States achieve its global objectives.

“This means an expectation that we can manage our own neighborhood. The U.S. will continue to value an EU with the means and mindset to act globally," she says.

On issues where Europeans and Americans diverge, Ashton proposes that the EU repackage its policies to make them more attractive to Washington -- for example, on global warming.

"Rather than forcing the issue with the U.S. in a way which encourages frustration or defensiveness," she says, "we could find common ground and achieve more progress by focusing on green growth."

The paper, however, does not make specific suggestions of how to form a more united European front.

In relations with Russia, Ashton suggests in her strategy papers that Moscow’s desire to obtain visa freedom was an issue where the bloc “can use considerable issue-based leverage."

She also says the two sides should focus on the conflict over Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, adding that both the EU and Russia agreed it was the “least complicated” of the “protracted conflicts in our common neighborhood."

On China, Ashton describes the continued EU arms embargo as a "major impediment” for developing stronger cooperation on foreign policy and security issues.

The Ashton papers also warn that Beijing is likely to react to the EU's stance on democracy and human rights: "Its overwhelming priority is development and growth. These economic goals underpin its political priorities: domestic stability and territorial integrity."

Ashton suggests that the EU should try to avoid being marginalized by a possible U.S.-China global governance axis by organizing trilateral meetings with the two powers.

written by Antoine Blua

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