EU leaders travel to Washington on Monday for a one-day summit with the United States hosted by President George W. Bush. After years of cool relations, this meeting comes as trans-Atlantic ties are warming up.
Not exactly of one mind, but coming closer
EU leaders, including the president of the European Commission, Jose Manual Barroso, and the president of the European Council, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, will meet with George W. Bush on Monday to discuss a variety of issues, including economic growth and integration, the environment and energy issues.
The trip to Washington for the EU heads might well be a welcome diversion from all the problems they face in Brussels, including the recent rejection by French and Dutch voters of the EU constitution and the wrangling over the next EU budget. The same could not have been said for the last EU-US summit in June 2004, when divisions over the Iraq war were still fresh in leaders' minds as were differences over US policy toward over Iran and its nuclear program.
But since that time, relations across the Atlantic have improved considerably.
"The backdrop of this summit is much more positive than the previous one," Gunnar Wiegand, the European Commission's top official dealing with the US, said in an interview. "We have had our occasional differences but now we work together much better."
The motto of Monday's summit will be "working together as global partners" and will be attended by Bush, Barroso, Juncker, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, among others.
There is a lot to talk about and much common ground, particularly on the economic level. The EU and the US share the largest trade and investment relationship in the world. In 2003, some $750 billion (610 billion euros) in goods and services flowed across the big pond and foreign direct investment levels reached $1.75 trillion in the same year.
Topics of discussion will also include the promotion of democracy, UN reform, development and humanitarian assistance and security issues, such as counterterrorism, and transport and border security.
Strong differences still there
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba
But Monday's meeting isn't likely to be purely a love fest. There are still big differences of opinion in many areas, such as the Kyoto Treaty on climate change, the International Criminal Court, Guantanamo Bay (photo) and the EU's decision to lift its arms embargo against China.
The row over subsidies for plane manufactures Airbus and Boeing is also a sore subject. Although even here, there's more talk of cooperation than conflict. Both sides announced on Friday that thay will hold new talks in a bid to end the subsidies battle.
"Talks will continue. My doors are open," US Trade Representative Rob Portman said after a meeting with his EU counterpart, Peter Mandelson.
But Stephanie Henning, a fellow at the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, admitted that while EU-US relations have improved the Bush administration has not undergone a 180-degree turn regarding Europe.
"Bush may have learned some lessons from Iraq, but ultimately he will continue to make decisions according to America's best interests," she told UPI.
However, she added that both sides needed a successful summit after Bush's charm offensive in Europe during a visit to Brussels in February and Europe's recent turmoil over the constitution.