Imperialist France attempts to control emerging countries
Once an empire, always an empire.
How friendly can Europe be with the U.S.?
PARIS President Jacques Chirac's warning to the new Europeans of EU and NATO enlargement that they cannot side too much with America and fit his definition of membership in the family of Europe has exposed, with an outburst of pure rage, a profound, long-term contradiction that could tear the EU apart from within.
While Europe has bandaged for the moment its wounds over NATO and Iraq at a Brussels summit meeting Monday night - offering up on paper a statement of unity that bears little resemblance to real policy - Chirac essentially told the East Europeans who will swell the EU's membership to 25 over the next three years that they risked being blackballed if they did not demonstrate more loyalty to a conception of Europe's role in the world that suits the French and German governments and not the United States.
The violence of the remarks acknowledged openly for the first time one of the basic reasons that Iraq has become such an existential issue for France, and in its manner, Germany.
Confronting the United States, and marking out a line where European-Atlantic coalescence must stop, involves an attempt to re-establish their leadership in a Europe whose institutional future points toward the French and Germans being submerged by a new wave of entrants refusing to define Europe's raison d'Ítre in a foreign and security policy automatically opposed to the United States.
Pure arithmetic and majority voting tell the tale. They turn France and Germany into minority presences over the expansion programmed for the next years. NATO goes to 27 members next year, reinforcing its American orientation. With most of same new countries involved, all regarding the United States as their ultimate protector, the EU increases to 25 in 2004, and then to 27 or 28, including Turkey, in 2007.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder referred, a trace obliquely, last week to the conflict, saying that the Iraq question really meant protecting "European sovereignty," and that the actions taken now would determine the development of Europe over the next 10 to 15 years. But with its shared borders and history of savaging Eastern Europe, the Germans are in no position to use the menacing and near-condescending language that came from the French president.
Basically, Chirac told the candidates: You must think as France and Germany do. With near total support for his positions in France, Chirac, thought-police style, set up as an obligation for the emerging half of the continent the unanimity at home that Liberation, the left-wing newspaper said over the weekend, "has something suffocating about it."
With a paucity of finesse that would have rivaled Donald Rumsfeld, Chirac told the new Europeans their positions were "dangerous" and "reckless." Indeed, he said, they "would have done better to shut up" than sign on to letters, one involving eight countries organized by Britain, and the other taking in the Vilnius Group of 10 EU and NATO candidate countries, that supported the position on Iraq of the United States.
And Chirac threatened. He said it would take the vote of only one current EU member in a national referendum to block the entire enlargement process. As for Romania and Bulgaria - perhaps singled out as ingrates because they are grant-supported members of the French-funded organization of nations nurturing the French language - Chirac said, "If they had tried to decrease their chances for getting in Europe, they couldn't have done a better job."
Although no other member country spoke in his manner, or offered him support, Chirac insisted the former Soviet bloc countries' attitude "can only reinforce an attitude of hostility" in their regard. This came from a man who clearly sees himself as Europe's dominant voice - but after a majority of 16 countries in NATO, with a procedural maneuver isolating France, forced Sunday night the delivery of defensive material to Turkey that a French, German and Belgian blockade had denied for a month.
Rather than applause, Reuters reported from Brussels, there were "seething" reactions, particularly within the European Parliament, to Chirac's tirade.
The intensity of the confrontation and the willingness of the East Europeans to make references to appeasement while continuing to state their affinity for the American position on Iraq, especially after France and Germany had brought Russia along to join their challenge to the United States, has clearly gone beyond what France had calculated.
In a weekend meeting of German and Czech officials in Munich, the Czech Republic's foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, recalled the Munich agreement of 1938, when Czechoslovakia was sold out to the Nazis by Western Europe, and warned of the consequences of appeasing a totalitarian regime. The same suggestion to appeasement, with its implicit linking of Iraq and a part of Europe, was made more directly on Monday by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia, an EU and NATO candidate.
Commenting on the different attitudes in Europe after the massive anti-war marches over the weekend, she said of Latvia's post-World War II occupation by the Soviet Union, "We certainly have seen the results of appeasement. It's much easier to tolerate a dictator when he's dictating over somebody else's life and not your own."
And she went on to emphasize the central issues that the EU's rejiggered common statement on Iraq skirted and left, without direct policy advice, to the Security Council. The core obligation on Iraq's disarmament, she said, "is what we are going to do about it, and what is the time frame that Iraq is to be given, and, of course, what happens if it doesn't comply."
The pugnaciousness of the candidate countries was reinforced by what British diplomats said was successful French and German pressure on Greece, the EU's current rotating president, to reverse an invitation it made to the candidates to attend Monday night's summit as observers.
"Some EU countries were probably afraid to hear voices they don't want to hear at the summit," said Janusz Reiter, the former Polish ambassador to Germany, who is now head of the International Relations Center in Warsaw.
Another Pole, Radek Sikorski, a political scientist working in Washington, was quoted by Reuters as taking the issues directly to the French and Germans. "France and Germany can no longer control the continent," he said. "America has too many friends in Europe who realize that America and Europe are one civilization."
This only emphasizes the confrontational nature of what Chirac said. At its most destructive, the outburst could well be the step too far that fractures Europe's confidence in its capacity to manage its vast expansion and reorganize its institutions, while creating a sense of unity and democracy that could be shared by all its peoples.
At the same time, it could be an indication that France is putting together the elements of an equation - saving the real Europe from the United States' plans to undermine it - that would help justify a French veto later in the week of a new Security Council resolution authorizing a strike against Iraq.
If it is only venting frustration at the cold prospect of France's diminished influence in Europe, not incompatible with the French president's personality, it is all the same a gesture that has brought Europe's future new pain and dizzying uncertainty.
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