Dr Helen Szamuely
Last week was not a good one for Chancellor Schröder. He lost a couple of länder to the Christian Democrats and with them control of the Upper House in the Parliament. Furthermore, he and President Chirac were shown up for being the representatives of Old Europe: out of date, behind the times, incapable of understanding which way the world is moving.
Schröder has famously insisted that Germany would not support the war against Iraq, no, not even if the UN says go. This indicates that his opinion of the UN and its various shenanigans is no higher than many other people’s but he has managed to grab the moral high ground over it (though not the electoral high ground as the results on Sunday proved). This attitude is particularly odd as Germany has just taken on the rotating presidency of the Security Council. (But then Libya now chairs the UN Human Rights Commission. The UN is a very odd organization.) In fact, Germany has quietly agreed to substitute American troops on NATO duty as the latter are sent to the Middle East. So the boycott is not complete.
President Chirac’s attitude seems to be even more curious. About three weeks ago he announced that French troops are being placed on battle readiness. Then about a week after that he announced that he was actually backing Chancellor Schröder’s uncompromising attitude about the war against Iraq. Perhaps, when he looked he found that all those cut-backs in defence spending have finally worked and there were very few French troops left.
France and Germany have also refused to discuss an American plan to defend Turkey against a possible Iraqi attack in case of a war. They do not want to discuss a possible war scenario as long as there are chances of a peaceful resolution. Whatever that may mean, members of NATO are committed by Article 5 of the Treaty of Washington to help each other in case of aggression and it would be sensible to have some plan for it. As the row over old Europe and new developed, two stalwart allies, Belgium and Luxembourg have hastened to the side of France and Germany. They, too, are opposed to any discussion of a plan to help Turkey in case of an Iraqi attack. The European Voice has described it as a “setback for the US”, though one wonders how much of a setback it really is in practical terms. It is certainly a setback for NATO as an organization and is likely to cause problems in the UN Security Council when and if a vote is taken on a second UN resolution. Given that France and Germany as well as Javier Solana as the foreign affairs representative of the European Union are insisting that Resolution 1441 does not mean that the punishment for Iraq not complying with various UN demands and resolutions should be military action (putting Saddam in the corner and not giving him any pudding ought to be enough), it seems odd that they do not want another resolution in the wake of the inspectors’ report. The one thing we have not heard very clearly from any of them was what it is they do want to do in the war against terrorism, which, theoretically, the whole of the European Union supports.
These discussions have been accompanied by a great deal of European sabre rattling (of a non-military kind) against the United States. The official line was stated by Javier Solana to the European Parliament: “The case for war must be overwhelming – so far it is not. The consequence of war, while always uncertain, must be judged – so far they have not been. And the motive for war must be clear and clearly understood by our public – so far it is not.” This sounds eminently reasonable but it has become clear to all who have been following the bad-tempered spat that there was more to it all. France, Germany, their acolytes and the EU as represented by Solana and various MEPs (who were at the same time busy trying to ensure that there would be no enquiry into the way the Palestinian Authority has used the large aid it has received from the EU) were clearly not going to support an American led war in the Middle East or, anything else led by the United States.
Could that attitude have anything to do with the fact that it is Western Europe, particularly France and Germany, who are seriously reliant on Middle Eastern oil, prefer to appease the various unsavoury dictators who are in charge of it? Perhaps. It is also true that the French government and the EU under its influence are almost routinely anti-American. There is a more serious problem out there: the Common Foreign and Security Policy, still in the discussion stage, stubbornly refusing to come into operation. The CFSP is a political nonsense because it is not based on common interest. To make up for that, its authors, who periodically include our own Prime Minister, concentrate on the various structures, hoping that these will substitute for interests. In order to justify itself the CFSP has to be active even if it does not know in which direction and, unfortunately, it has to be anti-American, in order to prove the swaggering puissance of the new European state.
Western Europe, particularly France and Germany, who are seriously reliant on Middle Eastern oil, prefer to appease the various unsavoury dictators who are in charge of it
Of course, that sort of straight talking is not done in European diplomacy, especially as European and EU politicians pride themselves on their old-fashioned diplomatic ability, as they repeatedly explain to the Americans and, more often, to the respectful media. We, Europeans, they say musingly, are sophisticated with a great deal of historical experience behind us. We are not gung-ho cowboys, johnny-come-latelies on the international scene. We know how to deal with the enemy and with Islam. We have been dealing with Islam for a long time. One cannot see everything in black and white, good and bad, right and wrong.
Perhaps not. Certainly not everything. But there are times, as Europeans with their long historical experience ought to know, when right and wrong are the only possibilities and when one must stand up and fight for what one believes to be right. This may not be one of those occasions, but just as the case for the war has not been made adequately, so the case for this being a nuanced situation has not been made at all. We merely have President Chirac’s and Javier Solana’s word for that.
the “new” Europeans, who had thrown off the burden of Communist rule were more aware of the difficulties the free world was facing at the start of the twenty-first century
The real problem arose, however, when Donald Rumsfeld, tired perhaps of being treated like a backward savage, turned the Europeans’ boast against them. In a famous statement about three weeks ago he accused France and Germany of representing the old Europe; old not as in old and wise, Commissioner Michel Barnier’s preferred explanation, but old as in outdated, sclerotic, inward looking, unable to understand the modern world, which is moving too fast for it. The self-appointed European spokesmen did not like this one bit, particularly as Mr Rumsfeld went on to call upon the new Europe, perhaps in a conscious imitation of George Canning’s famous words, “to redress the balance of the old”.1 In Mr Rumsfeld’s view the “new” Europeans, who had thrown off the burden of Communist rule were more aware of the difficulties the free world was facing at the start of the twenty-first century.
There was the most hideous outcry with European politicians and media accusing Donald Rumsfeld of every kind of crime and misdemeanour and, in particular, of wanting to break up the unity of European nations. It was recalled that the United States has tried, often successfully, to make various agreements on trade and military matters with individual member and applicant states, thus undermining the myth of common EU policy. The speech was crude, insulting, unmannerly. This came from people who had been heaping every kind of insult on Mr Rumsfeld and his President. Never mind, we shall show him. First of all, we Europeans will stand together. Secondly, Colin Powell, a nice chap who understands us well and wants to restrain the warmongers Bush, Rumsfeld et al will support us and rein them all back.
It did not happen that way. Colin Powell showed clearly that he had had enough of the European whingeing and dishonesty in moving the goalposts at the end of every negotiation and discussion. Then President Putin, France’s great hope in the struggle against the United States, announced that he could well envisage a possibility of Russia supporting American military action in Iraq, while the Russian Foreign Minister, Ivanov, added that Russia will not tolerate an Iraqi attack on Kuwait. Two Russian ships from the Pacific fleet steamed to the Indian Ocean. Putin is not anxious to break his friendly relations with the United States and President Bush; he is not best pleased with Iraq, who is being difficult about various oil deals and owes Russia billions of dollars; above all, he is looking at what might be in Russia’s best interests should the Saddam’s rule come to an end.
the Prime Ministers of Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Poland, Hungary and the President of the Czech Republic...expressed their solidarity with the United States in its fight against international terror...Within 24 hours Latvia and Slovakia added their signatures
Then the greatest blow fell: the Wall Street Journal Europe published a letter from eight European leaders: the Prime Ministers of Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Poland, Hungary and the President of the Czech Republic. They and their countries responded to the call for a new Europe and expressed their solidarity with the United States in its fight against international terror, showing themselves to be ready to back, if necessary, military action against Iraq. Within 24 hours Latvia and Slovakia added their signatures.
Pandemonium ensued. French and German newspapers, themselves usually controlled by political parties, accused the Wall Street Journal of acting in cahoots with President Bush and, probably, on instructions from him. The Journal retorted indignantly that it was an independent publication, which supported the Bush policy in the Middle East but was mostly interested in getting good stories. They pleaded guilty of carrying out journalism. Michael Gonzalez, the Deputy Editor of the Editorial Page, explained how he solicited an article on the subject from the Italian, Spanish and British Prime Ministers, asking if they were going to accept the French and German leaders as their spokesmen. By next day, to his astonishment and delight, the idea took off as politicians across Europe conferred and concocted the letter.
The real Europe?
Speaking before the European Parliament’s foreign and security committee, Michel Barnier, commissioner responsible for institutional reforms, said haughtily that in his opinion some of the applicant countries lacked a “European reflex”. Suddenly those centuries of experience counted for nothing. If you did not go along with the integrationist process and supported unquestioningly the leadership of France and Germany, you lacked the “European reflex”. He comforted himself and his audience, undoubtedly worried about their jobs should that reflex fail to appear in the people of Europe, that as further military integration took place and as “Europe” showed itself to be capable of defending the applicant countries, this reflex would appear. No, he was not advocating turning the EU into a militarized super-state. He wanted it to become a super-power that would pull its weight in the world by pooling its military resources, defence procurement and policies. The new states, he explained graphically, were not joining a supermarket (possibly he meant a free market area but the word super seems to have been on his brain) but a political union. They will have to understand this and act accordingly. Then again, certain long-standing members of the EU seem to be lacking European reflexes as well, in their determination to deal with the United States separately when it suits their interests.
enlargement will place a great strain on the common foreign and security policy...more countries with yet more interests would make it increasingly difficult to maintain the fiction that a common policy can be constructed
It is true that enlargement will place a great strain on the common foreign and security policy. Mr Rumsfeld seems to have been one of the few people to discern this. Yet more countries with yet more interests would make it increasingly difficult to maintain the fiction that a common policy can be constructed. The applicant countries, with their vastly different recent historical experience have different interests. They distrust Russia and tend to be pro-American. The old EU, led by France, is uncompromisingly anti-American and feels that Russia can be an ally (which it can when it suits her). The inherent contradiction has made itself felt rather painfully even before the EU’s formal enlargement to the east.
Mr Blair in his meeting at the end of January with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing promised British co-operation over the EU constitution...it seems he will agree to qualified majority voting on foreign policy
Is there a way forward?
The predictable chaos over policy is not stopping the integrationist machine. It is said that Mr Blair in his meeting at the end of January with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing promised British co-operation over the EU constitution that is being put together by the Convention. In particular, it seems he will agree to qualified majority voting on foreign policy. This is not such a great surrender since QMV applies to most of the decisions already, though countries can opt out if they feel that their interests do not coincide with the common decisions taken. His meeting with Chirac, ostensibly to persuade the French President to back a second UN resolution on Iraq, will undoubtedly result in agreements on further integration of defence policies and structures. As so often, one has to ask the question what exactly does Mr Blair believe in when it comes to his dealings with his colleagues in the European Union.
It is supremely ironic that just as the EU is taking its final steps towards setting up the necessary structures for a common foreign, security and defence policy that will, possibly, include a 60,000 strong EU force, the whole enterprise has been shown up for the sham it is by the open and fundamental division between the Franco-German axis with its allies and the other Europe.
“I called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old.” Speech made by George Canning on December 12, 1826.