Relations between EU and US reached 'all-time low' over Iraq
by Justin Stares
Newly declassified documents allow us to peek behind the curtain of past summits between the United States and the European Union - they show that the transatlantic relationship has been on a roller-coaster ride in recent times
Relations between America and the EU are so good that it is hard to think of even one sensitive subject, according to the US Department of State. "We have no better partner in terms of the broad ranges of activities that we are pursuing in the world - whether it is pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear weapons programme, or pressuring Syria to stop brutalising its own people, or working on a broad-based development agenda", says department director of policy Jake Sullivan. When asked by PublicServiceEurope.com if there were any remaining points of contention between the two blocs, he replies: "It's a little hard to answer that question because the list of areas of convergence is just so long."
What a contrast it is, therefore, to see just how much animosity existed between the two sides less than 10 years ago. In 2003, relations were in fact at an "all-time low" - according to newly declassified documents. "Despite all efforts to promote a cooperative transatlantic relationship, a growing perception of a deepening rift on both sides of the Atlantic dominates," a document, prepared by the European Council states. The reason for this awkward fit, of course, was Iraq. "Twelve months ago, the summit took place against the backdrop of a perceived all-time low in transatlantic relations following the war in Iraq," another document reveals. Prepared ahead of the 2004 EU-US summit and entitled Overview of the EU-side approach, it notes that conference participants worked hard to prove they could cooperate "notwithstanding differences". There is no mention of the fact that the EU was itself divided, with several governments supporting the Iraq invasion.
A third declassified document, this time produced following the EU-US Dromoland Castle summit of June 2004, hints at just how difficult transatlantic ties were on another agenda item - Galileo, Europe's satellite navigation system. "The Galileo/GPS deal showed that Americans and Europeans could solve almost any problem," the European Council states with pride. But US negotiators were concerned Galileo would compete with their GPS navigation system. They were also worried that the EU would share sensitive technology with China. Reports circulated in Brussels that US hardliners had threatened to shoot down European satellites. Though, unsurprisingly, this threat has not yet surfaced in any publicly available meeting minutes. Concerns were eventually allayed by EU reassurances regarding the compatibility of the two systems.
"Despite an atmosphere of intense media scrutiny of US policies in Guantanamo, Chancellor Schüssel hosted a relaxed and informal summit," reveals a document written in 2006, shortly after the EU-US summit in Vienna. "We need to make this clear to the outside." America had on this occasion clearly been complaining - again - about Europe's Common Agricultural Policy. "There's a misperception on Doha, the free trade negotiations - it simply isn't true that Europe behaves as a protectionist fortress," the EU side reports with frustration. Europe is "by far the greatest importer of food and other products from developing countries".
Fast forward one more year, to 2007, and there are reports of a "lack of political commitment" on reducing barriers to closer economic integration - an issue the state department director says is still on the agenda today. Sullivan put this is diplomatic terms: "Of course - there are places where we can deepen cooperation, where we can become even more effective in the ways that we work together; and one of those ways that we have discussed through the Transatlantic Economic Dialogue is deepening the economic engagement between the US and Europe, as we both work through our own domestic economic challenges." The documents help put transatlantic relations in context, though sadly much of what was said on these occasions remains classified. Huge passages on Iran, Iraq, the Middle East and, even, HIV/Aids have been deleted and might not emerge for decades to come.
The world received a warning of what a rogue USA can do under the Bush Neocons. Europe (and China) need to be aware and prepared economically and militarily for the potential that a rogue USA will emerge in future. Perhaps not in 2012, but from 2016 the future is far from certain.