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U.S./EU: Summit Looks To Strike A Positive Note

Can America and Europe ever set things right? After a rift over the Iraq war and other issues, the European Union and United States will be looking to generate positive news at an annual summit in Washington tomorrow (25 June).

Washington, 24 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United States and the European Union will seek to patch up their differences on everything from Iraq to agriculture when they meet tomorrow in an annual summit in Washington.

U.S. President George W. Bush will host an EU delegation led by European Commission President Romano Prodi and European Council President Konstandinos Simitis. EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy will also be in Washington.

Seeking to find a way to mend relations that have soured over the Iraq war, the EU signaled at a summit in Greece last week that it will be trying to find common ground with Washington on a range of divisive issues that still hamper bilateral ties.

Simon Serfaty directs the Europe program at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. A French-born U.S. citizen, Serfaty told RFE/RL the U.S. and Europe have too much at stake not to make a strong push to get their relationship back on track.

"If we don't find $2.5 trillion worth of the commercial relationship between America and the EU worth of bit of goodwill, then I don't know what will. This is a tremendous relationship. It has no equal anywhere else in the world, so we cannot do in the United States without it, and the Europeans cannot do without it. And that has to be understood on both sides," Serfaty said.

At the EU summit, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou led the push for a stronger EU commitment to Atlantic ties. A memo distributed at the summit by Papandreou says the EU's goal in Washington tomorrow will be "to reassert the fundamental importance of the relationship" with the United States after the strains of the Iraq war and other contentious issues.

These include Washington's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming or join the International Criminal Court, the war on terrorism, Iraqi reconstruction, trade, and the heated issue of using genetically modified crops to feed the Third World.

But the EU's push to improve ties with the U.S. came through most clearly in a paper on security by EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and endorsed at the summit in Greece. It underscored Europe's commitment as a partner in the war on terrorism and the fight to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Recently, in a sign of convergence with Washington, the EU has taken a harder line against Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program.

EU officials were quoted in Greece as saying that Solana's paper was meant to reaffirm that the trans-Atlantic relationship remains -- in Solana's words -- "irreplaceable."

But after the strains of the Iraq debate, and the Bush administration's withdrawal from several international treaties, analysts agree that it will take more than one summit to put things right.

A key point of contention remains the U.S.'s promotion of genetically modified food as a way to feed the Third World. Europe opposes bio-crops on health grounds.

Last month, Bush accused Europe of basically working to undermine the ability of poor countries to feed their starving populations by banning the use of bio-crops, which proponents say can help reduce pesticide use and yield better harvests in harsh climates such as in Africa.

On Monday (23 June), Bush repeated that same charge. "For the sake of a continent [Africa] threatened by famine, I urge the European governments to end their opposition to bio-technology," he said.

The Bush administration says Third World nations won't use bio-crops for fear of being shut out of the EU market, which bans them. It has asked the World Trade Organization to force EU markets to open up to bio-crops.

The EU says it provides more aid to Africa than the U.S. and has done nothing to prevent African countries from using genetically modified crops.

An international conference on genetically modified food kicked off in California on 23 June. In a sign of displeasure, EU officials are not attending the gathering in Sacramento, where hundreds of protesters demonstrated against the Bush administration.

Analyst Serfaty believes the bio-crops issue will eventually be solved. But he worries that -- despite strong trade ties -- something fundamental is still gnawing at the trans-Atlantic relationship.

"There is, indeed, part of this administration which does question whether or not the EU is a good thing for the U.S. And that I think is very novel. That's very novel. And I'm sure that in Europe, as well, there are many who are questioning whether the U.S. is a good thing for the EU. And that is what is troubling, that on both sides of the Atlantic now there are those who won't take it as a given that this relationship is too close to be harmed," Serfaty said.

Papandreou's memo urged EU members and candidate countries not to let the negative atmosphere surrounding U.S.-EU relations -- including "mutual suspicion" and "crude stereotyping" on both sides of the Atlantic -- degenerate any further.

For example, Bush is widely caricatured in Europe as a gun-happy cowboy, while the French, who led world opposition to the Iraq war, have been bashed in the U.S. media as spineless traitors. Some Americans have also boycotted French wine and renamed french fries "freedom" fries.

Papandreou said Europe must try to better sell its image to Americans in the U.S. heartland, and recognize "the seminal effect" that the attacks of 11 September 2001 have had on U.S. "fears, thinking, and strategy."