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Bush's 100 days -- the European view

Robin Oakley
Robin Oakley  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A hundred days of the George W. Bush presidency has left Europe shell-shocked at the robust conservatism of the new man in the White House.

He has worried European governments on defence and infuriated them on the environment.

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It was never going to be a natural fit between Bush and the EU, where the majority of governments are led from the centre left.

His focus is clearly more on Asia. He puts business interests ahead of environmental issues. He favours unfettered markets where the Europeans are keener to regulate.

European leaders had hoped Bush’s natural conservatism and non-interventionist instincts would be tempered by the narrowness of his election victory.

Instead, after the instinctively-internationalist Bill Clinton they have found themselves faced by an isolationist president who has rejected international agreements on land mines, nuclear testing and an international criminal court.

Bush’s robust language about Russia and China, his defence deal with Taiwan and his resistance to the increasing dialogue between North and South Korea has some worried that he is a would-be Cold War warrior. For his part, Bush has been irritated by the forthcoming EU leaders’ visit to North Korea.

On the environment, it is not just Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto protocol on the limitation of greenhouse gas emissions which has worried Europeans but his way of doing it.

The EU had written to Bush only the week before insisting it was a key issue in EU-U.S. relations. But he brusquely pronounced the Kyoto agreement “dead” the very next week as the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder visited Washington.

The Bush administration even questioned the science behind the Kyoto proposals and an EU delegation sent the next week to rescue something from the wreckage of hopes on global warming was brushed off with low grade meetings.

It could make for lively exchanges when Bush comes to Europe for an EU-U.S. summit in Sweden in June and for the G8 Summit in Italy in July. But the President has begun to sound a little more conciliatory, saying that he does take the global warming issue seriously and will look for ways of making progress.

On defence, European leaders remain nervous about the Bush administration’s plans for a National Missile Defence system which would involve scrapping the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the U.S. is worried that plans for the new European Rapid Reaction Force will undermine NATO.

When Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair was the first European Union leader to visit Washington he gave a cautious blessing to NMD and Bush publicly accepted Blair’s assurances that the new European force would be subservient to NATO.

But that is not how the French see it and tensions have not lessened much. Other EU leaders see the British, the only EU government to back Bush’s renewed bombing of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, as too close to the Americans.

There have been some breakthroughs. Secretary of State Colin Powell appears to have calmed European fears of a rapid pull-out of Americans troops from Balkans peace-keeping operations.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, two old friends, have succeeded too in pulling off a deal on the long-running dispute over EU banana imports. A full-scale trade war was threatened if they had not made progress.

Europe is ready for a charm offensive when the personally amiable Mr Bush comes to visit. But he cannot expect much of a welcome for his policies.



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RELATED SITES:
The Kyoto protocol
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