30th Nov 2023

EU asks US for greater role on world stage

  • The US has taken a bullish role in world affairs under President Bush (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU has in a letter to the next US president appealed for a greater European role on the world stage, more engagement with a resurgent Russia and more emphasis on peacemaking in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The six-page text was agreed at an informal EU foreign ministers meeting in Marseilles on Monday (3 November) and will remain under wraps until after the US election on Tuesday. But its contents were outlined by French EU presidency officials on the margins of the Mediterranean Union gathering in the southern French city, Le Figaro reports.

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Based around four priorities, the text calls for a better interplay between security and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, with a view to making Afghan elections in late 2009 determinant for peace in the country.

It says the US and EU should take note of Russia's economic revival and intensify diplomatic contacts to avoid the risk of confrontation. The EU as Russia's permanent neighbour should have a major role in future negotiations.

The letter urges the new US administration to put the Middle East peace process at the top of its agenda and foresees a "useful role" for the EU as co-guarantors of a future Israeli-Palestinian accord.

It also stresses the importance of multilateralism in world governance and calls for reforms to the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the G8 format, to be expanded to a group of 14 leading industrialised nations.

"The time is past when people asked what Europe was for. What we want is for our initiatives to be understood and shared," French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said in Marseilles.

"Europe has a telephone number," he explained, alluding to former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger's quip that he didn't know which number to call when he wanted to speak to Europe. "It's the number of the country chairing the EU at any given moment. Today, France, in two months, the Czech Republic."

"Russia is our neighbour. It's a huge country which has changed a lot. Never forgetting about human rights, we have to undertake a dialogue with Russia," the French foreign minister added.

Mr Kouchner's remarks and the letter follow the historic rift in EU-US relations over President Bush's unilateral decision to invade Iraq in 2003, with much of the Republican president's second term devoted to rebuilding trans-Atlantic bonds.

The current French leader, Nicolas Sarkozy, is markedly more pro-American than his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, with Mr Sarkozy putting the EU centre stage in recent efforts to broker peace between Russia and Georgia and to find a way out of the global financial crisis.

But the joint letter masks ongoing divisions between the US and EU and within the EU itself.

The US remains critical of Germany's reluctance to commit troops to combat zones in southern Afghanistan, while the former-communist EU states are concerned by France's Russia-friendly tone.

France's unilateral decision in St Petersburg last week to announce that EU-Russia partnership treaty talks can be restarted at the EU-Russia summit on 14 November caused a furore in Lithuania, with the Polish and Lithuanian presidents framing a joint letter of protest on Monday.

"We reiterate that under the continued occupation of Georgian territories it would be too early to resume talks on a new partnership agreement with Russia," Lech Kaczynski and Valdas Adamkus said.


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