Despite the tendency to over-use the word, there can be no doubt that the forthcoming visit of George W. Bush to Europe will be an historic occasion, perhaps of the same order of Kennedy’s visit in 1963 when he stood on the Rudolph Wilde Platz and declared "Ich bin ein Berliner".
(Incidentally, if anyone wants to listen to a recording of that speech, you can download it from the JFK site.)
This may be over-egging the importance for the events to come but there can be no dispute that Bush's visit will set the tone for US-European relations for much of the presidential term. And, with reconciliation in the air, expectations are high.
Thus it is that The Independent today has Barroso in focus. According to the paper, he "sings the praises of Bush to sceptical Europeans", telling everyone – or, at least, the dwindling band of Independent readers – that Bush is "warm", "spontaneous" and better in private than in his "rigid" television appearances.
This is part of a "charm offensive" by Barroso who, The Independent says, "is playing a role in an unprecedented EU push to patch up the relationship between Europe and Washington".
In an interview with the paper, he was asked whether a sceptical European public could be won over to the US President. It was in that context that Barroso gushed about the "warmth" of GW.
But, if Barrroso wants to inject a "touchy-feely" note into the relationship, it is the International Herald Tribune which addresses one of the key, hard-edged issues, with a long article headed: "For EU and NATO, a race for influence".
Reporter Judy Dempsey reminds us that the EU and Nato are "barely on speaking terms". She cites a senior NATO official who tells her that: "There is now a competition between both organizations where member countries try to play off their interests either against the EU or NATO." He adds:
The relationship between the EU and NATO is in flux because both are jockeying for influence on the international stage. As the EU moves slowly along the road toward doing more defense and security, it is seen as threatening to NATO. NATO knows it is no longer Washington's first port of call for its military missions. It is becoming a toolbox for the US.This, Dempsey asserts, is all part of a sense of uncertainty inside NATO over its future as the collective security organisation for Europe. This much we have picked up in several of our own posts, not least here and also here.
The piece – which is well worth reading in full – concludes with an observation that the current paralysis is good for neither the EU nor Nato as both organisations need each other. Citing Daniel Keohane, a "defence expert" at the Centre for European Reform, the piece ends with his comment: "And then you wonder which organisation will set the trans-Atlantic agenda."
The news agency Bloomberg then widens out the theme, noting that: "Bush's European 'Honeymoon' Masks Iran, China Discord".
In another piece well worth reading, it predicts that "the smiles will be wide and the embraces warm" when Bush arrives in Europe, with the promise of setting aside the "bitter rift" over Iraq. Le Monde is billing the trip as a "honeymoon" for US- European relations.
However, Bloomberg notes, the public displays of affection will only mask, not resolve, differences over such issues as Iran's nuclear capabilities, the lifting of an embargo on arms sales to China and global warming, citing Pierre Hassner, an expert on international affairs and former research director at the Centre for international Studies and Research in Paris.
He sees no evidence that the Bush administration is more prepared now than it was during the Iraq war to heed the advice of its allies, and declares, "Beyond the smiles, there is no sign of a genuine change of substance."
That brings us to the "initiative of the day". Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform has issued (as of midday) a grandiose "Compact between the United States and Europe" signed by notables on both sides of the Atlantic, but including many of the "usual suspects", like Timothy Garton Ash, Douglas Hurd and David Hannay.
It serves a useful function in setting out the fault lines between the US and (some) EU member states, opening with a declaration that:
The partnership between Europe and the United States must endure, not because of what it achieved in the past, but because our common future depends on it. In recent weeks, optimism has grown that the partnership can find new vitality. But renewal requires more than hope; it requires action."This Compact," the authors claim, "shows that a way forward exists, if leaders on both sides of the Atlantic will take it. With bold steps, the partnership can survive and thrive, in a way that benefits Americans and Europeans alike."
The real agenda, though, is stated on page 10 of the document, under the heading: "United States-European Union Relations". It asks that:
The United States reaffirms its longstanding support for the process of European integration and the progressive enlargement of the European Union as deemed appropriate by the members of the European Union.This is not what the US is prepared to offer despite the spin put on Condoleezza Rice's recent press conference during her visit to Europe. I strongly commend readers to visit the State Department site, linked in our posting, to see what she really said.
The United States affirms its willingness to engage the European Union on any issue that Europeans collectively designate as a European Union competence. The members of the European Union commit to ensuring that the international agreements reached in their name by the EU will have effect and will be implemented where appropriate into European national law and practice.
The European Union commits to ensuring that any EU defence organisation will maintain strong and transparent institutional links to NATO and complement rather than duplicate NATO functions. The United States will not oppose European efforts to develop an autonomous military planning capability so long as those efforts are undertaken transparently and in coordination with NATO planning efforts, including as appropriate through the use of dual-hatted officials.
Building on the EU’s recent decision to enhance its representation through the election of an EU President and appointment of an EU Foreign Minister, the United States and the European Union commit to enhancing the scope of their regular US-EU summits, and to underpinning summit meetings with institutional arrangements to ensure day-to-day cooperation. Summits will in the future be focused not only on trade issues but become a genuine forum for strategic dialogue on the full range of issues of concern to transatlantic relations, including in the area of foreign and security policy.
This all points up that what the "colleagues" really want is American approval of the EU constitution, which Bush will not give. Despite their yearning to be independent of the US, they still have this child-like need for "big daddy" to give them their blessing. In its absence, the fault lines will remain.