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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
Limited hopes at US-EU summit
By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Washington

 EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
The visit of the EU leader may generate little public interest
There is, it must be said, not a whole load of excitement in Washington about the US-EU summit.

Sceptics might put this down to the probability that no more than one in 10,000 Americans could put a name to the face of EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

But it is also fair to say that the substance of the summit is not going to set the world alight.

Business-class travellers on both sides of the Atlantic may delight at the signing of an air trade liberalisation agreement. Those who spend sleepless nights worrying about non-tariff barriers may have an extra spring in their step as the thought of the creation of Transatlantic Economic Council to tackle trade obstacles.

But there has been little in the way of progress on climate change, the EU's current obsession, and no grand political decisions have been unveiled.

Building bridges

Despite this, the relationship between Europe and the US appears to be in pretty good shape.

I think Europe lives in a sense of security, post cold war, that the United States does not feel
John Bolton,
former US envoy to the UN

"The evidence of improvement in the relationship," says one European diplomat, "is that people don't talk about it anymore."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who currently holds the EU presidency, has made the transatlantic relationship a priority.

It is a vigorous rejection of the policy of her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, who appeared to delight in thumbing his nose at the US and cosying up instead to Russia.

"Without the US," says another European diplomat, "there can't be any success in coping with a globalised world."

This, say the Germans, is why Chancellor Merkel has embarked on an intensive effort to build an economic bridge to the US.

Before, during and in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war, the relationship between Europe and the US sunk to a previously unknown low.

Europe was caricatured as being from Venus, America from Mars. In other words, America acted whilst Europe talked.

That discussion did reflect a reality, says John Bruton, the EU's ambassador to the US.

"There are different attitudes," he says. "What has happened in the meantime is that people are beginning to see that perhaps Venus had more going for her than Mars, and that the European approach may actually make more sense than the approach typified by the god Mars, the god of war."

Threat perception

Now, say diplomats, the US is happier with the multilateral approach. Iran and North Korea are often-quoted examples.

US officials and politicians are scrupulously polite about US-EU relations in public. Those fresh out of government are less squeamish.

"I think Europe lives in a sense of security, post cold war, that the United States does not feel," says John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN who left his post at the end of 2006. "That is in large part because the European Union is very inward looking.

"The United States does not have that luxury. The United States still faces threats around the world."

As if to hammer home the point, the grand buildings of state in the US capital are lined with concrete crash barriers. The contrast with Brussels is startling. Washington is still a city on a war footing with scores of US soldiers killed in Iraq in April alone.

"All US foreign policy," sighs one diplomat, "is Iraq."

Europe may have won the argument over Iraq. But that does not help the US win the war. And at least until the war is over, more than an ocean divides the two continents.

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