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A Weakened E.U. Poses Challenges for Washington

While some in the Bush White House may be celebrating Jacques Chirac's political misery, Washington may soon miss having a stronger hand and more coherent voice in Brussels

May 31, 2005

Original Article (French)    

At the time when the Bush Administration needs a strong partner on several international fronts, the United States will find it difficult to deal with a weakened European Union after the French rejection of the E.U. Constitution, according to American experts.

— BBC NEWS VIDEO: French 'Non' Throws E.U. Into Turmoil, May 30, 00:02:35

"I think that the overwhelming perception is that the United States now faces a crowd of diminished European leaders. Blair is weakened, Chirac will now be weakened, Schroeder is now preparing for what seems like an impending defeat and Berlusconi has just changed his government -- and this poses problems for the United States, which needs assistance in the world," reckoned Charles Kupchan, an expert on European issues with the Council On Foreign Relations.

"At a time when the Bush Administration has shown a willingness to work more closely with Europe as a Union, it may be that the E.U. will miss the call," judges Simon Serfaty, an expert on European questions at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"What authority can we work with – going forward - beyond the E.U. and its members, in Iraq, in Iran, but also in Afghanistan, in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East? The question is discouraging: if it is not with the EU and its members, then with whom; if not now, when?," he added.

"Since January we have noted the beginning of a revitalization in trans-Atlantic relations, and that will slow down," judged Samuel Wells, a Europe expert at the Woodrow Wilson Institute. According to him, "the American government and experts will take the E.U. less seriously as an international political actor.”

Kupchan doesn’t believe, however, that, “there will be an immediate impact on American-European relations."

The State Department reacted Monday with a statement that it expects to continue its relations and "partnership" with the European Union to continue, "whatever the evolution of the E.U. might be."

According to Kupchan, the American government is divided over relations with Europe. "There are those that prefer a weaker , more decentralized Europe, those that one calls the hardliners, and others, mainly in the State Department, who wishes for the reverse and prefers a stronger and more unified Europe as a partner for the United States," he said.

Samuel Wells thinks the same. "The neoconservatives and a very broad group within the Congress prefer to deal with European states  bilaterally, and not work via the European Union.”

"There is an important group within the political elite which estimate that going forward, the main object of international politics will be China, and they argue that more attention should be paid to China and less to the European Union," Wells said.

The U.S. media on Monday also wondered over the impact of the French vote. The Washington Post estimated that, "it is difficult to see anything positive arising from French non," whereas The New York Times judged that the vote "could paralyze decision-making in the European Union for months."

The American media also judged that the no vote was a serious blow to the authority of French President Jacques Chirac. The vote, "deeply wounded the French president," wrote The New York Times. For the Los Angeles Times, "the defeat constituted a terrible repudiation of Chirac."

A reversal perhaps not lamented by some in the Bush Administration. According to Kupchan, "There are perhaps certain members of the American government who are not unhappy with the political misadventures of Chirac, due primarily to the divisions over Iraq."

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