EU looks to close ranks with US to keep global influence

The European Union must close ranks with the United States if the two powers are to keep their global influence during the rise of states like China, India and Russia, EU foreign-policy chiefs said at an informal meeting on Friday.

"The new American administration will, as we all of course also, have to cope with the new emerging countries: apart from Russia, which is an old power with a new assertiveness, India, Brazil and China," EU foreign-policy commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

"We want to be more equal partners with the US, but how can we do that? We have to raise our own game, we have to be more clear and united in the positions we are taking, we have to be more effective and forthcoming in using our policy and our instruments," she said.

At an informal meeting in the French city of Avignon, the foreign ministers of the EU's 27 member states discussed how to cooperate with the next US president on questions of global security such as climate change and energy security, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who chaired the meeting, said.

"The world is dangerous, the return of nationalism and micro-nationalism impose on (the EU and US) a common vision and common steps," he warned.

"We want to set up a sort of better process, not to be surprised, not to be completely bare-handed, and not always to be obliged to threaten someone else," he said.

Ahead of the US election, scheduled for November 4, the EU is therefore set to draw up a list of the areas in which it would like to work more closely with the US, to be sent to President George W Bush and the two candidates in the election.

"It's not to take advantage (of the change of administration), but knowing that our American friends ... also wish that the EU should be politically present in the world's problems, and take its political place, not just as a fund-raiser but a player in its matters of peace, and sometimes of war," Kouchner said.

But at the same time, he also criticized the policies of current US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who on Friday visited Ukraine on a whirlwind tour of the former Soviet Union aimed at boosting ties in the wake of August's Georgian-Russian war.

Cheney "has a certain sense of protecting people, but I'm not so sure he got a lot of success with this particular sense," he said.

Also at the meeting, ministers discussed with the EU's top foreign-policy figure, Javier Solana, how the bloc should update its common security strategy - a document written in December 2003.

"There are questions like climate change and energy security which need an answer," Solana said, adding that he hoped to present a "short and useful" new document to EU leaders by the end of the year.

Tellingly, however, the original strategy of 2003 stresses the need for the EU to project its values round the world by working with international organizations such as the UN and WTO.

"The best protection for our security is a world of well-governed democratic states," it says, listing political and social reform and the defence of human rights as "the best means of strengthening the international order."

And the rise of Russia, China and India has alarmed EU diplomats, with the Russian-Georgian war and the collapse of WTO talks in a row between China, India and the US both seen as signs that Western domination of the international agenda can no longer be assured.

"Over the last few years, you've seen a determined effort on the part of Europe and the Americans to forge common positions on issues as diverse as Iran, Russia, and international development," British Foreign Minister David Miliband pointed out.

"There's still an opportunity to work together, not at the expense of the rising powers in China and India, but as a way of binding them into the global system and making sure that responsibility is shared by all the powers in the modern world," he said, according to dpa.

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