By Brian Beary in Washington | 22 October 2010

The EU’s drive to get all 27 member states included on the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) has run up against a wall. The view of multiple sources closely monitoring the dossier is that the US Congress will have to pass new legislation before Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania will have any chance of joining the other EU23. Though some on Capitol Hill are sympathetic to their cause, nothing is likely to happen until 2011 at the earliest. Even if Congress changes the rules to make it easier for the EU4 to enter, they still need to be invited to join by the US administration and there is little indication that the Obama administration is interested in expanding the programme.

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Pelicans and marsh grass were not the only victims of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Another casualty was in Britain among some people there who felt aggrieved that their country seemed to get no specially gentle handling from the White House in the name of the “special relationship” between the U.S. and UK. That longstanding concept of a special bilateral tie has only slowly faded in London, even under the new government. But decision-makers in Washington have been saying privately for years that it no longer exists, except in special circumstances such as the wars in the Falklands and the Gulf.

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Hubert Védrine gets it right when he remarks that “there is a lot of fetishism in talk about the Franco-German relationship.” In saying that, France’s former minister of foreign affairs wants to make the point that the French-German couple long ago “lost that loving feeling” – meaning the commitment and energy that fueled their success as a pace-setting duo for Europe has died out. As his comment suggests, some ritualistic reflexes remain possible in dealings between Paris and Berlin. But the mutual passion has drained; the affair is over. In the current circumstances, where the EU is struggling financially and economically amid the continuing after-shocks of the crisis, the torment is not caused by a breakdown between Berlin and Paris. If there is trouble in the EU’s situation and future, it does not stem from some dysfunction in the two capitals’ political libidos. Nor is there any solution for Europe in seeing these two capitals “make up.” These two nations have become too dissimilar to maintain a “relationship.” Just to take one central issue, Germany now ranks as one of the leading global economic players while France has not yet been able to halt its tumble in the ratings.

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For German leaders today, most born after 1950 and many since 1960, both the EU and the Franco-German relationship are now part of Germany’s policy choices, among others -- and no longer a central goal as it was for the post-1945 generation amid their determination to set Germany on a new course in a new Europe that precluded any return to past tragic failures. During the last two decades the political and economic geometry of Europe has altered in favor of a more dominant position for Germany. While France can continue to strut on the world stage of the UN as one of the five permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council and aspire to position itself as a power with global reach, Germany has become the dominant player in Europe.

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Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, appealed Thursday for closer EU-U.S. ties in the wrenching economic crisis engulfing both sides of the Atlantic. “The transatlantic community is not living up to its potential. I think we should do much more together,” he said.

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