NEWS

An effort to narrow the Atlantic

With a summit meeting behind them that took the European Union a step closer to being a stronger political union and which also strengthened its ties with the countries of the troubled Western Balkans, Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Commission President Romano Prodi, foreign affairs commissioner Javier Solana and other senior officials are off to Washington this week to improve relations between the Europeans and the United States. President George W. Bush will lead the American delegation in Wednesday’s meeting which follows weeks of fence-mending, including the adoption of a stronger stance by the EU against security threats. On the agenda of the annual meeting are transatlantic relations, the Middle East, Iraq, the fight against international terrorism, dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, legal cooperation and trade. Simitis and Prodi will meet with Bush before the two delegations join them. They will then hold a working lunch before Bush, Simitis and Prodi hold a news conference. Simitis is representing the EU’s presidency. Also on Wednesday, Greek Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos, representing the EU, will sign a mutual legal assistance pact with US Attorney General John Ashcroft. This cooperation in the face of security threats is at the heart of the effort to restore ties between the United States and Europe which were rattled by the skepticism of some EU countries over the Iraq war. At their summit in Porto Carras in Halkidiki on Friday, the EU leaders welcomed a number of recommendations presented by Solana for what the summit’s conclusions termed «an overall strategy in the field of foreign and security policy.» This stresses that in the face of new threats to international security – namely international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states and organized crime – the European Union must face up to its responsibilities and also maintain its partnership with the United States. «As a union of 25 states with over 450 million people producing a quarter of the world’s gross national product (GNP), the European Union is, like it or not, a global actor; it should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security,» Solana’s document said. «One of the core elements of the international system is the transatlantic relationship. This is not only in our bilateral interest but strengthens the international community as a whole. NATO is an important expression of this relationship,» it said. Solana proposed a European foreign policy that is more active, more coherent and more capable. But while it stressed the importance of ties with the United States, it also pushed the European idea of greater multilateralism and working with the United Nations. «The transatlantic relationship is irreplaceable. Acting together, the European Union and the United States can be a formidable force for good in the world,» the document said. «An active and capable European Union would make an impact on a global scale. In doing so, it would contribute to an effective multilateral system leading to a fairer and more secure world.» The crisis over Iraq has dominated transatlantic relations during Greece’s six-month term as EU president. But it also highlighted rifts among EU members themselves, with France and Germany leading one side while Britain, Spain and Italy led those who were in favor of Washington’s moves to invade Iraq. Simitis and his foreign minister, George Papandreou, found themselves mediating furiously and twice when it appeared that the rupture within the EU was complete, they brokered a compromise. In Greece itself, most people were firmly opposed to the US-led war against Iraq but the government allowed the coalition free use of military facilities and Greece’s air space.