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The U.S. and EU, side-by-side

Comparing the United States and the European Union, figures show how Europe remains primarily an economic power.

In the weeks before President Bush delivered last week’s annual State of the Union message, the ambassadors the European Union hit upon an idea: perhaps, as the president made his usual round of thanks to America’s allies for their support in the war on terrorism and other efforts, he would mention the EU.

After all, in May, what is already the world’s largest trading bloc will add another 10 nations to its roster, soon to be 25-strong.

“Right  up to the last minute, we didn’t know what would happen,” said an Irish diplomat, whose nation, as the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, made the approach to the White House. “We really hoped they would seize the opportunity to build a bridge, to show it’s all behind us.”

In the end, the Europeans were disappointed.

“We are the indispensable partner of the indispensable nation,” says French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte. “But in Washington, the EU doesn’t feel indispensable. It feels invisible.”

Fears of a multilateralist European super-state rising to rival America’s military muscle feature prominently in the nightmares of neo-conservatives in the administration. But a comparative look at the two entities shows clearly that Europe remains primarily an economic powerhouse, and a sputtering one at that.

The chart below shows statistics before the EU adds 10 more members in May. But European officials caution against assuming 10 new countries mean more muscle.

“Look at Germany’s experience with unification,” says Michael Czinskota, a German-born professor of international economics at Georgetown. “It slowed them down, and they speak the same language. This is not like melding West Virginia and Connecticut. There are huge challenges and that will keep the EU looking inward for a decade or more.”