Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The US is eager to see unification of Europe


EU expansion can hardly go fast enough to satisfy the US.

Now that Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have become members of NATO, the focus moves to another momentous event for Europe: The EU's eastward expansion on May 1.

Five of the seven countries that joined NATO this week -- the three Baltic states, Slovakia and Slovenia -- will be among the 10 to join the EU. The other five are Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Malta.

The addition of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states especially adds to the bevy of close US allies in the EU such as Britain and the Netherlands.

In Washington there is eager anticipation over how these pro-US countries might influence other countries that have distanced themselves from the US because of the war in Iraq and other reasons.

It is a misunderstanding if some leaders think that the new members will act as a type of "Trojan Horse" that will look after our interests, said US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charles Ries.

It was just a little over a year ago, however, when US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld controversially uttered the phrase "old Europe" to describe European allies who opposed the war in Iraq.

The May 1 expansion will be welcomed unconditionally by Washington. Looking even further down the road, the US already is talking up the possible integration of Turkey into the EU. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has continued to lobby on Turkey's behalf.

Barring that, it's feared that extremists and Islamic fundamentalists will win influence, said Helmut Sonnenfeldt, director of the Atlantic Council of the United States.

"It would be very wise of the Europeans not to isolate Turkey," he stressed.

Turkey should serve as a democratic model in the Islamic world, according to the US, and as a western bulwark standing at the intersection of Europe and the restless states in the Middle East and their unpredictable political future. EU membership for Turkey is seen by Washington, and also by Ankara, as an important bonding agent.

Since the end of World War II the US has vigorously championed unification of the free European countries.

"What's Europe's telephone number?" Henry Kissinger, then secretary of state, said 30 years ago referring to the integration problems the continent had at the time.

The US sees European unification as a "courageous and historic step. ... All European democracies should have the same chance for security and peace and the same prospects to become part of European institutions," US President George W. Bush said.

Washington sees a close connection between Europe's integration and the expansion of NATO. Regardless of contentious or unclear trade and tax questions, geo-strategic considerations are first and foremost when it comes to Washington's thinking on expansion.

The addition of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, means the number of countries formerly dominated by the Soviet Union that are coming into a western institution is growing.

And it means the conclusion of a fitful epoch for the US in which it twice was drawn into wars followed by decades-long Cold War.

The last 50 years of European history are unique after centuries of war and division, Sonnen-feldt said. "The world is much better off with a united Europe," said Sonnenfeldt, who has served as an adviser to different US presidents.

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