July 12, 2005

U.S. fears inward-looking EU after referendums

By Paul Taylor

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States fears the European
Union may turn in on itself and be a less effective partner in
spreading democracy after French and Dutch voters rejected the
EU constitution, a senior U.S. official said.

Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European
affairs, told a group of journalists the Bush administration's
reaction to the referendum defeats was one of dismay rather
than the delight some Europeans may have suspected.

"We were not happy about the double 'No'," Fried said at a
dinner late on Monday organized by the German Marshall Fund of
the United States.

"Our first reaction to the French 'No' was not
schadenfreude but 'Oh my God, how are we going to fix the
Balkans if the EU puts itself out of the game?'," he said.
Schadenfreude is a German term meaning to rejoice at others'
misfortune.

"We were not happy about the prospect of a weak Europe as a
result of the French and Dutch referendums."

The United States took no official position on the
constitution, meant to enable the EU to take decisions more
effectively after enlargement to 25 members and give the bloc
more stable political leadership.

But Fried said an outwardly-focused EU was essential to a
transatlantic partnership to promote democracy and freedom in
the Middle East and around the world, which President Bush had
made the central focus of his second term.

Just when the United States had come to appreciate the
value of the Europeans as partners in that endeavor, "the EU is
going to spend the next three years walking round in circles"
fretting about its institutional future, he said.

As a result, U.S. policymakers had decided to respond to
the referendum defeats by "putting our arms around Europe in
the hope it won't be so bad," Fried said.

WANING ENTHUSIASM

The constitution contained provisions such as a European
foreign minister, an EU foreign service and a long-term
president of the European Council of EU leaders designed to
give the bloc a higher profile and more consistency in world
affairs.

U.S. officials are particularly concerned at the waning
enthusiasm for further EU enlargement reflected in the French
and Dutch votes on May 29 and June 1, and subsequent signs that
the EU may slow its embrace of new candidates.

The United States has long pressed for strategic reasons
for the EU to extend membership to NATO ally Turkey and has
recently been keen for Brussels to bring Ukraine into the
European fold.

Fried stressed that Bush genuinely wanted a strong European
Union as a strategic partner in his "freedom agenda."

"The United States and Europe have political legitimacy
when they act together," he said.

The reality that Washington and Brussels were working more
closely together in the Middle East peace process, on Lebanon,
Ukraine and now on managing China's emergence as a major power
would take time to have an impact on European public and media
opinion, which was still negative toward the United States.