Inside the glass house: by Thalif Deen

3rd June 2001

EU might takes on powerful super power

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AMSTERDAM— As the world's only superpower, the United States is riding tall in the global arena- even as it occasionally faces a hail of bullets from enemies and perceived friends.

In Europe, the US dollar continues to zoom bypassing the new European currency, the Euro, which plunged to about 0.85 against the American currency last week.

The strength of the US dollar in world markets is obviously a reflection of the continued vibrancy of Imagethe American economy despite threats of an impending recession.

The US also has a virtual monopoly of the mass media, which in their own subtle ways, propagates the virtues of American lifestyles to Europeans.

Seemingly, everyone out there is trying either to ape the US or to outdo the trend-setting Americans. The European movie theatres are flooded with Hollywood blockbusters (one multiplex in Brussels boasts over 45 screens, outdoing the Americans who are notorious for their mega malls and mega movie complexes).

The news stands in the streets of Brussels, Rome, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Berlin have all been taken over by American magazines and newspapers or are crammed with French, German, Italian and Dutch editions-Time, Newsweek, Vogue, National Geographic, Glamour, Fortune. and even Hugh Hefner's racy Playboy and Bob Guccione's raunchy Penthouse magazines.

And Cable News Network (CNN) is a staple in virtually every room in the major hotels of Europe. Never mind the competition from BBC and Skynews.

Well, what else is new?

In global politics, however, it may well be a different story. The new Bush administration is at loggerheads with the Europeans— and the relationship between the two is going down the tube.

As a collective force, the 15-member European Union (EU) is trying to stand up to the Americans. Well, they may win some and lose some.

At the United Nations, the EU has been critical of the US for defaulting on its assessed payments to the world body.

The US has always claimed a superior right to manipulate the UN primarily because it has traditionally paid 25 percent of the regular UN budget, recently reduced to 22 percent.

The EU is now picking up that challenge.

Speaking on behalf of the 15 members of the EU last year, Ambassador Jean-David Levitte of France characterized European feelings this way: "The United States is a single country, but it makes as much noise as it were 15. We are 15 countries and we speak as if we were one."

Levitte also said that it is now desirable for the 15 members to make their weight felt very clearly.

The EU, after all, represents 28 percent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) — a slightly higher percentage than the US — while paying 37 percent of the UN budget, 40 percent of the peacekeeping budget, and 50 percent of all special UN Funds and Programmes.

"And we are right on time, with no arguments, and we are entirely upto date in our payments," he said, taking a dig at the US, which has been late even on payments it now grudgingly makes.

But in the ongoing battle for new permanent seats in the UN Security Council, some right-wing US politicians are turning the EU argument on its head: If you speak with a single voice on all political issues, how come you are still holding onto two permanent seats in the Security Council?

Since two of the five veto-wielding, permanent seats are held by two EU members, namely, the UK and France— the other three being the US, China and Russia— some US congressmen argue the EU should justifiably have only one such seat to represent the collective voice of the EU.

Maybe that additional seat should go to Japan which is trying to break down the door to claim any empty seat in the Security Council.

The EU, of course, would never buy that argument— not in a million years.

Meanwhile, the Europeans are still rejoicing over the fact that three EU members, namely France, Austria and Sweden, elbowed out the Americans in last month's vote for the three Western seats in UN Human Rights Commission.

The US is livid— and thinks that some of the EU members reneged on their pledges to vote for the US.

The result was a humiliating defeat for the US in a vote marked by secret balloting.

The differences between the EU and US keep widening— and more so after the new Bush administration took office early this year.

The growing US-EU split is already evident over several sensitive political issues: UN sanctions on Iraq, treaty on climate change, the international criminal court, ban on landmines, the death penalty, the proposal for an EU rapid deployment force, the US national missile defence, relations with North Korea, and the uncritical American support for Israel.

Some of the differences are spillovers from the former Clinton administration but most of them have become even more sharper under the Bush administration.

The bottom line is clear: As a superpower, the US wants to have its own way— and as the International Herald Tribune put it last week —"And a new world order will have to wait."

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