The European Commission's plans for stronger links with the US are a statement of hope rather than a confident affirmation.

External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said transatlantic relations have improved as she announced the plans this week. She may well be right. But that is a mark of how low relations had sunk, rather than how high they have risen.

During George W Bush's time in office, and particularly because of his behaviour over Iraq, so much momentum has been lost that revitalising the relationship is a real challenge. The current malaise goes deeper than disputes over subsidies for Boeing and Airbus, or imports of transgenic maize important though these are. In the past, the EU and the US managed to maintain vigorous links in the face of similar differences.

It is the emergence of profound differences of philosophy, vision and approach that have created a gulf of misunderstanding across the Atlantic Ocean. And rebuilding bridges is heavily handicapped by the lack of strong personal relations between key players on either side.

When Bush was first elected, the EU calculated that the rebarbative new President would eventually have to soften his unilateralist approach and seek re-engagement with the EU on the EU's terms. Manifestly, that hasn't happened as was demonstrated ceremony-rich but content-light Bush visit to Brussels earlier this year.


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