President Bush is making his farewell tour of Europe. Currently meeting the Slovenian prime minister – in his role as (temporary) holder of the EU presidency – he is also having talks with EU commission president Barroso and Javier Solana.
From there, he will head to Germany where he will mark the 60th anniversary of the implementation of the Marshall Plan and the Berlin airlift. Then he will travel to Italy, France and the United Kingdom. He will not this time be going to Brussels.
Those of us who remember his last (and only) visit to Brussels will recall the strenuous efforts which were made at the time to prevent the President openly endorsing the (then) EU constitution.
It is fascinating to compare and contrast that with now, where John Bolton (pictured), "former senior advisor to President George W Bush", has been saying that the Lisbon treaty (i.e., the reheated constitution) will "undermine democracy". Not only that, he adds that the treaty poses a threat to Nato and could hurt the military alliance between Europe and the US.
Referring to the Irish referendum, he then said that he would not understand the Irish giving "more powers to bureaucrats," going on to declare: "The only people you elect have a very limited role and I think this treaty will further enhance the power of institutions in Brussels without extending democratic authority to people."
His remarks came prior to his delivering a speech on transatlantic relations at University College, Dublin, when he warned the treaty could "undercut" Nato, something that would be a "huge mistake". He argued that if the EU has its own military capability, people will think Nato is redundant and Europe "can take care of their own defence".
For sure, the official US view is very much at variance, expressed in a report last month from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. This stated that Washington would support a more "muscular" EU, provided that European defence spending was sufficient for a radical improvement in military capabilities on this side of the Atlantic.
Some four months previously, in a speech in Paris, Victoria Nuland, the US ambassador to NATO, had overtly supported a militarily stronger European Union in a speech in Paris four months ago. That support, though, was conditional on the Europeans embarking on a "radical improvement in military capabilities, with a far more focused policy on defence spending."
While we cannot say that Bolton's view in any way reflects official US policy, it may be a straw in the wind. From the Istituto Affari Internazionali in Rome, we recently had are report indicating that many of the EU member states were having trouble meeting their existing defence commitments. While between 2001 and 2006, France, Britain and Spain spent more than three percent of gross domestic product on defence, Italy spent only 1.47 percent, and spending in Germany and Sweden sharply declined.
Even more recently, we had seen reports that the French military is in trouble, with most of France's tanks, helicopters and jet fighters are unusable and its defence apparatus on the verge of "falling apart".
Elsewhere on this blog we recorded the difficulties EU member states had in equipping its force for Chad and latterly we concluded that – in terms of military performance, the idea of European defence was an "unrealisable dream".
Despite this, we have seen continued attempts by the EU to create a "European Army" – but all that actually amounts to is a "dedicated military headquarters", more structures and oversight of the military function by the EU parliament.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy, we understand, may be calling for the national components of the already agreed European Rapid Reaction Force to be badged as Eurocorps formations – no doubt to add to its "multinational marching detachment", but nothing being proposed actually brings any more military capability to the table. For some member states – as we argued in this post - the objective of pooling military structure is to spend less money on defence.
Going back in history, one must recall that one of the greatest supporters of the nascent European "project" – in the fifties and sixties – was the US government, with CIA money being channelled into the European Movement. Not least, the US then saw in a united Europe a bastion against the emerging threat of Communism which threatened to engulf the whole of Europe.
Now, if Bolton is seeing the EU defence ambitions as a threat, he cannot be the only influential American to take that view. This may reflect the assiduous work of a number of British teams who have been over to the States, working through right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation – warning them of the dangers.
As did it help the EU on its way, therefore, there is now a glimmer of hope that the US could be instrumental in prising away the UK from the "project", having seen – at last – that the EU represents a danger to the interests of democracy and global security.