Democrats Reach Out

Can New Leadership in Congress Bridge the Atlantic?

News | Sean Delaney, Lavdim Ismaili | March 2007

Both houses of the U.S. Congress are now back in Democratic hands after 12 years of Republican control, with profound repercussions for Europe.

Members from both sides of the aisle have drafted resolutions countering Bush’s plan for Iraq. Republicans and Democrats have profound reservations about the plan to send some additional 21,500 troops to Baghdad, though Republicans are, at the same time, moving to block any legislation to cut funding for the war.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the number two behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the House, has called for a new international conference on Iraq. He proposed that the "conference be carried out under UN auspices, with robust involvement from various Iraqi factions, neighboring countries, key Middle East nations, the European Union and others," at a Brookings Institution conference in January.

So far, no progress has been made on the proposal.

Responding to the change of leadership, socialist leaders in Europe have pledged to work to repair the Transatlantic Alliance, and Democratic National Committee leader Howard Dean met with representative of European socialist parties in early December.

So while relations between Europe and the US have cooled over the last six years, caused primarily by the administration’s stance on Iraq, now, with Democrats at the helm, European socialists have an opening to again work with the US.

"We had a very good meeting with Mrs. Pelosi and Senator Reid," said EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, at the press conference after the EU-US meeting, on Jan. 8.

However it is not clear how much change is possible now.

"We took notice of the change," said Concha Fernández de la Puente, External Relations Press officer at the European Commission. "But our relations with the U.S. have remained the same." The Commission’s first level of engagement continues to be with the executive branch of the government, at least until the next election, a point confirmed by Barroso.

"Our relations in terms of the negotiation are above all with the president and the administration," Barroso said at the press conference.

Other analysts suspect the congressional delegation of posturing.

"The Democrats seem to be putting most of their energy into attacking the Bush Administration in order to position themselves for the upcoming 2008 presidential election" said Webster University professor Dr. Gregory Weeks. "If they were really concerned with trans-Atlantic relations, they would have done more in this regard much earlier."

Also at the meeting were key leaders from Palestine’s Hamas government, who met with European leaders, as well as Howard Dean and others from the Democratic National Committee. Much progress was made as a result of Dean’s attendance, according a Palestinian official interviewed for the Israeli news portal, adding that more meetings were planned between the parties.

"We are not anti-American, we want the real America, your America," said former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in a comment to Dean at the convention.

"I suppose Rasmussen alludes to the fact that America has, in recent centuries, been a symbol and guarantee of freedom and liberty for many Europeans" said Dr. Jozef Batora, a research fellow at the Austrian Academy of Science. Batora feels that with recent events, such as Abu-Ghraib, Anti-Americanism has flourished. "Many a European now looks at the U.S. as a child would look at its drunken father - a sense of disappointment, fear of unpredictable moves and falls, and desperate waiting till soberness once again comes back."

The "‘we like you but not your leaders’ approach to politics is one of the oldest forms of anti-Americanism," said Weeks. He feels statements like these are "a great way to get yourself off the hook without suffering any damage."

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