Friday, February 11, 2005

No "powerful backing" for European integration

There has been an element of fluttering in the Eurosceptic dovecotes this morning in response to an article in the Europhile Financial Times, claiming that the fair US secretary of state "backs European integration process".

This, we are told, occurred as Condoleezza Rice ended her tour of Europe and the Middle East yesterday when, according to the FT, she issued "a powerful statement" of US backing for European integration.

"In an effort to put to rest European fears over the US administration's previous division of 'old' and 'new' Europe," the FT has Ms Rice insisting there was no conflict between a strong Atlantic alliance and greater European unity.

Ms Rice, the FT says, "gave forthright backing to the efforts of European governments to forge a common foreign policy", saying a "unified" Europe was a "positive force". The paper continues:

Acknowledging the concerns of some in the administration that the European Union might develop as rival to Washington, she said her meetings with European leaders had reinforced her perception of a strong identity of interests. "The most powerful message I have heard here is that there is a strong desire to move forward on a common [transatlantic] agenda."

She indicated that Washington would not stand in the way of further integration. "As Europe unifies further and has a common foreign policy - I understand what is going to happen with the constitution and that there will be unification, in effect, under a foreign minister - I think that also will be a very good development," she said.

"We have to keep reminding everybody that there is not any conflict between a European identity and a transatlantic identity... but this is working." Anticipating George W. Bush's visit to Brussels later this month, Ms Rice added: "I very much want to call to everyone's attention that is why the president is coming to the European Union".
However, what we are getting from the FT – as you might expect, is a very partial, selective account. From the State Department website, which publishes the whole exchange, a very different picture emerges.

Condoleeza Rice is asked whether, if she had one person to call on the phone, who would that be? She replies:

If I had one person to call on the phone well, I never have to call just one person. We have learned to work in concert with a number of the parties in Europe. I do want to say that the European Union and its development in terms of the common foreign policy is a positive trend. A European Union that is open and that has an open architecture, if you will, that is not promoting fortress Europe - and I hear no one saying that – that unified Europe is going to be a positive force for us.
She then continues:

And so, I very much want to call to everybody's attention that, that is why the president is coming to the European Union, now with the Luxembourg presidency, because he wants to emphasize that we do have a partnership with the European Union, as well as we continue to have partnerships... have bilateral partnerships with individual members.

I have found that there is a strong commonality of values, obviously, but what I've found here this time is that there is also strong commonality of understanding about what the agenda is. And it hasn't mattered whether you are at the European Union, or the European Commission, with the British or the Germans or the French or the Poles or the Italians or any of the other places that I've been. It hasn't mattered where you were; that common agenda is understood. That means that we've got all kinds of relationships that we can mobilize and use and work with to pursue that common agenda. That is really in many ways to me the remarkable thing: my conversations have been really very much the same in all of those fora.
The questioner persists, however, asking: "Would you prefer to have one counterpart in Europe instead of running everywhere? Wouldn't it be easier to conduct foreign policy?" Rice replies as follows:

I actually don't mind it the way it is. And as Europe unifies further, I'm sure that… and has a common foreign policy, I understand what is going to happen with the constitution, and that there will be the unification under, in effect, a foreign minister. I think that will also be a very good development. But, of course we will continue to have bilateral relations, as well, and that also is a very, very good thing. There's nothing wrong with them being able to come from several different directions.
The key here is that she has no problems with the current arrangements. She is taking the neutral stance that, if further unification happens, as she says, "I think that will also be a very good development". And then the "killer": "...of course", she says, "we will continue to have bilateral relations, as well, and that also is a very, very good thing." Note, the use of the word "very" twice, as against once when she is talking about the CFP.

By any measure, US policy – as articulated by the new secretary of state – is to keep options open, not least by insisting on maintaining bilateral relationships. There is no ringing endorsement here for European integration, as the FT claims.

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