Filling the foreign policy vacuum

Series Title
Series Details Vol 7, No.14, 5.4.01, p11 (editorial)
Publication Date 05/04/2001
Content Type

Date: 05/04/01

WHEN it appeared after weeks of uncertainty that George W. Bush had won the US presidential election, European leaders began gnashing their teeth in anticipation of a trickier new era in foreign policy.

His campaign pledges to pull troops out of the Balkans and set up a missile defence 'shield' were cited as evidence that the US would no longer trifle with European security concerns. His seeming preoccupation with domestic tax cuts for the rich and religious fundamentalism as a cure for social ills also did not comfort those who have long counted on the US as the toughest cop on the world beat.

The only people who were happy, it seemed, were business leaders frothing at the expectation that trade barriers would fall faster than a NASDAQ stock price and even more gleeful that the new leader of the free world's first priority, apparently, is to make it easier for them to pollute.

But fewer than 100 days into his administration, there are signs that Bush may be something of a godsend for the EU, which has been trying for the last decade to boost its status as a foreign policy arbitrator.

Enter Javier Solana. The Union's highly-respected foreign policy chief has, in recent days, inserted himself effectively into disputes boiling over in the Balkans and the Middle East. Additionally, the EU is taking a welcome lead role in bringing together North and South Korea, picking up where Bill Clinton left off (and where Bush has shown no willingness to expend precious political capital).

The early reviews are strong. Solana has Israel and the Palestinians talking again after two months of escalating horror. The situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia shows even more promising signs of improvement.

It may be that Solana can do no better than did Clinton - or, for that matter, a pathetically long string of other would-be peacemakers before him. But at least the EU is getting its wish: a larger and more meaningful presence on the world stage.

Instead of lamenting Bush's shortcomings, Union leaders should concentrate on filling the foreign policy vacuum he appears quite content to leave behind. The more face-time Solana gets instead of Bush - or Clinton or Richard Holbrooke or Jimmy Carter or George Mitchell - the better for the image of Europe as a unified political and economic force.

Maybe Bush isn't so bad for the EU after all.

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