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New kid on the bloc

Make room for the new superpower. Founded largely for trade reasons, the European Union is now in the process of ratifying a Europe-wide constitution. Laws and a ruling governmental body are already in place. Means to represent a combined Europe in matters of foreign affairs have also been agreed upon. All the emerging power still lacks is a strong defense plan. But that’s just a hitch in the road while Europe is fast approaching the bona fide status of superpower, a development the United States cannot brush aside as it has in the past.

Looking at Europe’s history, the rapid development of a unified Europe is an outright amazing achievement. Neighboring countries have been tied up in historic conflict for centuries. Wars were started just to settle the score of the previous ones. But in the interest of unity, all countries seem to agree that these conflicts truly belong in the past and should not hamper Europe’s future.

France and Germany, for example, could not have a worse historical relationship, but in the interest of peace, this is set aside.

French President Jacques Chirac said last week he endorsed a plan to revamp NATO, brought forth by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. “We must also, as the German chancellor has underlined, continue to take account of the changes that have occurred on the European continent,” he said at a recent NATO summit that President George W. Bush also attended. Addressing U.S. concerns, Chirac went on to say, “Europe and the United States are real partners. So we need to dialogue and listen to each other more.”

And therein lies the problem. On this side of the pond, our government has largely ridiculed Europe and brushed aside treaties such as the International Court, the Kyoto Protocol and ICBM treaties establishing nonproliferation of intercontinental missiles. Yet it expects Europeans to play along when it comes calling.

Congress wasted time by renaming French fries “freedom fries” to protest France snubbing the war in Iraq. Abroad, this caused little more than bemusement, as Europeans know that it wasn’t the French who invented fries, but the proud people of Belgium.

Other cultural clashes made even less sense than such petty measures. In his fervor to lobby for the war in Iraq, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld coined the term “old Europe.” Old Europe, he argued, encompassed such countries as France and Germany, which did not support the war effort by sending troops, while “new Europe” was in step with the U.S. vision of the world.

The historic irony of a U.S. defense minister getting ticked off because Germany is hesitant about starting a war aside, the remark shows how much our government misunderstands Europe.

Europe does not insist it has the answers to everything. Rather, its member states are open for discussion and ready to make concessions to come to agreements that benefit all involved parties. If countries disagree on the solution to a particular problem, it does not mean it will break off ties altogether. This is in stark contrast to the “with us or against us” mentality the Bush administration has been pushing.

When President Bush went to Europe last week, he met with key European leaders. What he neglected to do, though, was give indication that his plans are not set in stone. President Bush can hold countless speeches professing his will to change in that regard, but unless he actually does, relations with Europe will not change for the better.

For the United States, the harsh reality is this: Europe is the largest economy in the world. Its 665 million citizens produce more economic might than the 294 million citizens the United States calls its own.

When the euro was established as a pan-European currency standard, it was ridiculed. Now that it is the basis for the world’s largest economy, other nations such as Russia have switched to it as a basis of trade rather than using the U.S. dollar. As a consequence, the euro keeps rising against the dollar.

Europe may very well be able to survive without the United States. It is becoming increasingly apparent, though, that the United States cannot live without Europe as trading and diplomatic partner. The United States must realize what European countries have learned years ago: Respectful disagreement on some issues does not exclude cooperation in all of them. On the contrary, Europe has proven it makes a union stronger.

Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in geography and is the Oracle Opinion Editor. column@sebimeyer.com