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The Other Transatlantic Partnership

Canada and the EU have a lot in common these days. In addition to being among the strongest proponents of multilateralism, they're both working to revive ties with a deeply unpopular US administration.


Canada and the EU: Committed to "effective multilateralism"

On his first official visit to Canada this week, US President George W. Bush may have tried his darndest to give cross-border relations a fresh start. But by most accounts, he got a pretty frosty reception -- and not just because of the winter weather.

The scenes on the streets of Canada's capital, Ottawa, echoed those on the streets of European capitals visited by Bush in the past -- crowds of protesters waving signs calling him a "war criminal" and "liar."

US-Flagge in Ottawa Bush besucht Kanada

A Bush protester waves an upside-down American flag during the US president's state visit to Canada

And while smiles abounded at a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, so did signs of their obvious disagreements on issues such as the importation of Canadian beef after a mad cow disease scare and Canada's refusal to send troops to Iraq.

Shortly after his re-election victory, Bush also made overtures toward Europe aimed at smoothing tensions raised by such matters as his refusal to back the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court, and which came to a head over the Iraq war, which the majority of EU governments opposed.

Common ground

Verteidigungsminister Donald Rumsfeld

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Western Europe has already borne the snub of being labeled "Old Europe" by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (photo), and some Canadian foreign policy analysts are predicting that Canada will remain "irrelevant" during Bush's second term. In terms of their relations with the world's only remaining superpower, Canada and the EU, it seems, find themselves on common ground.

But deepening old rifts with the United States would only be counter-productive for both, said Kevin O'Shea, deputy head of Canada's mission to the European Union.

"You see the US reaching out to Europe, and we're strong believers that this reaching out needs to happen, it's the same with relations between Canada and the US. We have strong economic ties, we all share common values in terms of democracy and the rule of law. Obviously, Iraq was a case of fundamental difference of opinion in terms of the use of force, but more unites us than divides us," O'Shea said.

However, the fact that Ottawa and Brussels took similar positions on issues such as Iraq and Kyoto may have earned Canada extra kudos on the east side of the Atlantic.

"In the past, the EU may have taken Canada for granted as simply an extension of the US," O'Shea said. "With our position on Iraq, when we clearly said we would not be part of any military intervention without multilateral approval, and with our support of the Kyoto treaty on climate change, there was resonance in the EU. They realized what Canadians have known all along, that we're two multilateralists with much in common."

Effective multilateralism

To demonstrate that multilateralism can be an effective foreign policy strategy, the EU and Canada are cooperating on issues of international importance, such as ending violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, holding Iran to its agreement to freeze nuclear activities, and ensuring that upcoming elections in the Middle East are democratic.

But will they have the US on their side? Despite Bush's post-election international outreach, there have yet to be any signs of contrition for the unilateralist foreign policy of the past, or willingness to adopt a less unilateral approach over the next four years.

Bush feiert seinen Sieg

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush stand on stage during a victory rally on Nov. 3.

On the contrary, during his visit to Canada, Bush rebuffed his many critics north of the US border, saying his re-election was an affirmation of his administration's go-it-alone approach.

"I haven't seen the polls you look at," Bush said with a faint smile when asked about his unpopularity among Canadians. "We just had a poll in our country where people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to be in place for four more years."

"I'm the kind of fella who does what I think is right and will continue to do what I think is right," Bush said.

It wasn't the sort of message many in Canada -- or the EU, for that matter -- were expecting from a second-term president reputed to be eager to win back traditional allies.

New alliances?

But then, some foreign policy analysts are predicting that Bush will be looking to build new alliances in his second term with China, Russia, and the member nations of "New Europe," such as Poland and Hungary.

"Bush, without being overt, has made a bet on a new coalition of power in the world," Thomas Riehle, president of the Washington-based Ipsos Public Affairs research company, told Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star. "He's betting that the old countries of influence, such as Western Europe, will see their influence decline, and the countries he's reaching out to will have it increase."

In this emerging market of alliances, Riehle said, Canada may be "tossed in the same bucket as Europe."

In which case, they'll still have each other.

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