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Europe/U.S.: Split Highlighted As Eight European Leaders Back U.S. On Iraq

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The leaders of eight European countries have issued a joint declaration of solidarity with the United States in its confrontation with Iraq. France and Germany, which do not approve of the U.S. line, are not among them. The differences of view split the ranks of European Union member states and show that the EU's common foreign and security policy largely exists only on paper.

Prague, 30 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Like a jagged bolt of lightning, the declaration today by eight European leaders in support of U.S. policy against Iraq has split the ranks of European Union member states. The statement, published today in European newspapers, says the trans-Atlantic relationship between the United States and Europe "must not become a casualty" of what it calls the Iraqi regime's "persistent attempts" to threaten world security.

This appears to be a clear reference to the growing rift between Washington and the two biggest European Union member states: France and Germany. Both French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have rejected the thrust of Washington's hard-line policy on Iraqi disarmament, saying that diplomatic action must take precedence over military action. They say any military strike against Iraq must first be approved by the United Nations Security Council.

By contrast, today's statement by eight European leaders emphasizes the "vital" need for Europe to preserve "unity and cohesion" with the United States. It makes no reference to any new Security Council resolution but instead urges compliance with existing resolutions.

Analysts note, however, that there is no direct contradiction in the statement with the French and German position. Both sides emphasize pursuance of the UN path.

The statement says the Iraqi regime's continuing failure to comply with UN's disarmament demands threatens to undermine the authority of the Security Council and represents a threat to world security.

The statement is signed by the prime ministers of five EU countries: Britain's Tony Blair, Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso, and Denmark's Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Also signing are three leaders of EU candidate states from Central and Eastern Europe: Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, and Czech President Vaclav Havel. Havel, it must be said, occupies a ceremonial post, and his views have no direct impact on the Czech government.

The statement undercuts attempts to forge a common EU foreign and security policy and leaves the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, stranded on the sidelines. As independent London-based analyst Alexandra Ashbourne put it: "I think, regrettably, it shows that when things are tough that Britain and some of the other EU signatories still look first to America for foreign policy, rather than being totally with their other European partners."

For Ashbourne, the statement by the eight shows that they have thrown in their lot with Washington on its assessment of the dangers posed by Iraq and its alleged attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. "Politically, they have committed themselves. They have seen enough evidence in the Blix report and accepted what President [George W.] Bush said on Tuesday [28 January] night that Saddam Hussein must be disarmed and has constantly refused to disarm," Ashbourne said.

Another analyst, Heather Grabbe of the Centre for European Reform in London, said the divisions within Europe are on display for all to see. "The key issue is that this really is Europe washing its dirty linen in public, showing how divided it is. The contents of the letter are actually less interesting than who signed it and who did not sign it. It's interesting, for instance, that the Dutch did not sign it. They are normally rather pro-American. So I think what's interesting is that Europe is prepared to show how divided it is, because the countries are so worried about the impact this crisis is having on trans-Atlantic relations," Grabbe said.

The initiative for the statement by the eight countries is said to have come from Blair and Aznar. Germany and France were apparently not asked to sign, and the Greek presidency of the EU is reported to have known nothing of the move in advance.

While this may not follow the spirit of community law, it does not actually break EU law. That's because, according to Gabriel von Toggenburg of the European Academy in Bolzano, Italy, all that is required in this case is efforts to reach a consensus, not the consensus itself. "As this policy area of the EU is more about cooperation and less about integration, it's enough to try to come to a consensus and compromise. But there is no duty at all to really find a compromise," Toggenburg said.

Toggenburg noted that the EU as a whole did debate the Iraq matter in council and failed to bridge the gap. Nevertheless, the episode must be seen as damaging to European unity.