Bush visits a Europe ever further away

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

They are called Generation E, for a generation of young Europeans growing up with a single European currency, living within a single European border, and debating a single European foreign policy. Compared with their parents and grandparents, their emotional and historical attachment to America is weakening.

A similar estrangement is occurring in America, where links to Europe are loosening as family ties to the old Continent fall further back in time and new immigrant ties are more often to other continents. In the post-cold-war years and especially since 9/11, attention has increasingly turned from Europe to Asia and the Middle East.

At the same time, however, transatlantic economic ties are as vital as ever. The US-European Union market, topping $500 billion annually, constitutes one of the world's preeminent poles of economic stability and job creation. Furthermore, collaborative efforts in several areas - such as the Balkans and Afghanistan, and for tsunami relief - demonstrate the value of cooperation among Western powers.

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It is in this context of loosening historical and emotional ties, and vital political and economic interests, that President Bush travels to Europe next week. His top representatives, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have insisted in their own recent trips to Europe that the United States wants to forge a return to closer cooperation after the disagreement and bitterness over the war in Iraq.

As he travels from Brussels, where he will meet with NATO and EU leaders, to Germany - a country that has evolved from close postwar friend to distant ally over recent years - Mr. Bush will be trumpeting the vitality and worth of the transatlantic partnership. He will seek help on reconstruction in Iraq and reform in the Middle East. And he will do it on a continent where he personally and his policies remain unpopular.

In many ways, this trip will be like a reunion of a family whose branches have drifted apart, the loosening contacts and diverging perspectives accentuated by one big falling out. The reunion will be a time to assess the ties that bind, and to decide whether and why they are worth the effort of renewal.

The answer depends on both sides but lies above all with Bush, experts say - although the outcome may be determined as much by forces beyond any one leader.

"A substantial part of the problem is structural. It doesn't have to do with Bush or [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder or [French President Jacques] Chirac," two European leaders who made their opposition to Bush's Iraq policy overt, says Charles Kupchan, a foreign-policy expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

Running down a list of causes of the transatlantic drift - NATO's struggle with the end of the cold war; the rise of the EU, now 25 nations strong; the divergent impact of 9/11 on the two sides of the Atlantic; and generational changes that have meant the end of what he calls "true Atlanticists" - Mr. Kupchan says, "It already would have taken a great deal of hard work to keep this alliance together."

But along came George W. Bush, who ushered in dramatic changes to US foreign policy, at the same time as European leaders no longer felt the need always to follow the US lead, but rather felt enough strength to strike out on their own. The result, Kupchan says, is that the "liberal internationalism" that guided transatlantic relations for more than 50 years - in which Europe accepted American leadership in return for America's willingness to compromise and work through international institutions, "is now gone."

Add to that the growing separation of the two publics. Stark differences characterize American and European perspectives on everything from the death penalty, religion and secularity, to preferred economic and social models.

"Europeans see in America a huge gap between rich and poor and the lack of a safety net," says Fraser Cameron, director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels. "These differences become examples of what they don't want."

Such "societal differences" eventually translate into differences in leadership. Mr. Cameron points to Germany, "a key US ally for 40 years" that "shifted dramatically away from the friendship," to the point where Mr. Schröder won reelection in 2002 on an anti-Bush campaign.

Indeed, leaders on both sides have used transatlantic differences to advance their own agendas. "Something that gives real force to the anti-Americanism we see is the elites' desire to use it as the glue that constructs a European identity that still doesn't really exist," says John O'Sullivan, former special adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who is now editor of the National Interest, a foreign-policy review in Washington.

At the same time, some specialists in the US warn that a more unified and independent EU is anathema to US interests and should be avoided at all costs.

Yet many transatlantic experts join leaders from both sides in heralding signs, such as Bush's week-long European visit, of a dedication to revitalizing the relationship.

At a meeting with EU leaders during her recent European trip, Secretary Rice offered a detailed list of areas where she expects to see stepped-up US-Europe cooperation put to work, including on Iraq, global trade, domestic security, Israeli-Palestinian peace, and in broader Middle East reforms. Even Secretary Rumsfeld went some way (though not as far as Rice) in lauding European unity at a meeting of defense officials and experts last week. Playing on a 2003 speech at the same gathering where he infuriated Europeans with talk of "New" and "Old" Europe, he said such provocative talk was "Old Rumsfeld."

"It's really a crucial gesture by President Bush that he will not only visit Europe but the EU institutions," says Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's new commissioner for external relations. "We want to reach out as he wants to reach out."

Bush will give a major speech here Monday before an audience of political and business leaders and foreign-policy intellectuals. In this way the president is seen to be reaching out to a public that, as a recent survey by the transatlantic German Marshall Fund demonstrates, remains conflicted over relations. Europeans are as sour as ever on Bush, the survey found, but join many Americans in supporting a more multilateral and less militaristic America - what Europeans might call "Old America."

But neither speeches nor wishful thinking about transatlantic halcyon days will be sufficient to revitalize relations, experts and officials agree. Attesting to the depth of concerns about the relationship, this week a group of 50 foreign-policy and national-security experts from both sides of the Atlantic signed a "compact" laying out steps each side should take on issues ranging from Iran to climate change to China.

"The partnership between Europe and the US must endure because our common future depends on it," the compact says.

Leaders insist the state of relations isn't as grave as some suggest, but they agree more must be done to convince the public. Ms. Ferrero-Waldner, who has already started working with the Rice State Department on coordinating peace efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says the two sides must demonstrate the impact of their cooperation if they want their publics to come along. "It's up to the leaders on both sides to clearly show our citizens that we are much stronger together."

Still, most experts say relations have deteriorated too far and changed too much after 9/11 just to rely on cooperation in areas of broad agreement like the Middle East peace. "The basic lineaments of a grand US-Europe deal are very simple," says Mr. O'Sullivan of the National Interest. "The US should concede greater and earlier influence to the Europeans on diplomatic policy, and the Europeans should give the US deeper and earlier influence on trade and regulatory questions."

Georgetown's Kupchan agrees a revitalized partnership is possible, "but it's going to be different from the old one," he says.

"The US is simply going to have to get used to the reality that it is no longer able to boss the Europeans around on every issue. At the same time," he adds, "the Europeans must decisively step up to the plate in areas where they say there is accord, like stability and democratization in Iraq. That will go far in draining Washington's dismissive attitude towards Europe."

Bush's itinerary

Monday: Brussels. Meets with the king, queen, and prime minister of Belgium.

Gives a speech to business, government, and other officials and intellectuals.

Has a working dinner with French President Jacques Chirac.

Tuesday: Brussels. Attends the NATO heads of state and government summit, which meets with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Also attends the summit of NATO's 26 country leaders.

Makes his first official visit EU institutions - first the Council, then the Commission.

Wednesday: Mainz, Germany. Meets with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Also meets with US troops, including some who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Thursday: Bratislava, Slovakia. Has bilateral meeting with Slovak leaders. Holds a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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