London (CNSNews.com) - Amid growing transatlantic hostility over Iraq and a host of other issues, Britain has asked the European Union to call a special summit on anti-Americanism, the U.K. Foreign Office said Friday.
Dennis MacShane, Britain's minister for Europe, said in a statement that anti-American sentiment in European capitals must not be allowed to "contaminate the construction of the European Union and its enlargement."
A summit, he said, was essential "so that we can unite to stop those forces which are seeking to divide Europe still further and exclude existing and incoming member states from being full and equal partners in the E.U."
Britain has asked Greece, the current holder of the E.U. presidency, to call the summit, but a Foreign Office spokesman said the issue could also be raised informally at the sidelines of an official meeting next week.
Although he did not mention any countries by name, MacShane expressed concern that the Iraq debate might lead existing E.U. members to block the entrance of Eastern European countries into the union.
Pro-U.S. Britain and Spain have joined several Eastern European countries - which are seeking to join the E.U. - in opposing the views of France and Germany.
In response, France and Germany have threatened to block membership of Eastern European countries if they reject E.U. leadership on foreign affairs.
French President Jacques Chirac let his irritation with Eastern European nations show through last month when he said that prospective member countries should "shut up" when it comes to Iraq.
That outburst came after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld characterized France and Germany as "old Europe" and said that the balance of power on the continent was shifting eastward.
"Europe is divided on Iraq," MacShane said. "But it is irresponsible to talk of referendums to stop enlargement or to talk of a Europe consisting exclusively of anti-American nations or those indifferent to the Euro-Atlantic economic and security arrangement."
"When the Iraq crisis is over, the United States and the European Union will still be there," he said. "I accept sadly that Europe cannot speak with one voice on Iraq. But we should not let that disunity turn into permanent division."
Transatlantic differences go beyond the question of what to do about Saddam Hussein, however. U.S. and E.U. officials have recently argued about steel tariffs, the Kyoto agreement and the International Criminal Court.
"Iraq is just one more point of disagreement," said Charles Grant, director of the London-based Center for European Reform.
Grant said that European leaders were reacting against perceived American unilateralism and predicted several stormy years ahead for transatlantic relations.
"It's going to be messy for several years, but it may be better in the long run," he said. "The rifts within Europe may heal quite quickly, but between the U.S. and Europe - that might take longer."
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