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EU: Divided Union Strives For Unity On Iraq

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The European Union's policy on Iraq is in disarray, with some members supporting the tough line of the United States toward Baghdad and others rejecting military solutions. Current EU president Greece is trying to bring order to the chaos by supporting the idea of a summit involving not only EU members but also candidate states and even countries like Syria.

Prague, 5 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- While the Iraq crisis is nearing a decisive phase, the European Union remains deeply divided over what line it should take on the issue. Germany and France do not favor any unilateral action by the United States and Britain to disarm Baghdad by force. But nine other European leaders, led by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, signed a letter last week expressing solidarity with Washington's hard line. Four of the signatories are from candidate members: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has signaled that the rift is continuing undiminished. In an interview on German ZDF television yesterday, Schroeder criticized the nine who signed the letter. He said the declaration deviates from a joint European Union position on Iraq previously adopted by the foreign ministers of all 15 EU states.

Schroeder asserted that Berlin and Paris, by adopting a similar approach to the Iraq problem, are trying to help establish a common European foreign policy based on the foreign ministers' decision.

The difficulty of arriving at a common line was illustrated anew yesterday by the inability of Blair and French President Jacques Chirac to bridge their differences during a mini-summit in Le Touqet.

As analyst James Waltson of the American University in Rome put it, "What we saw yesterday between Chirac and Blair shows that if those two who are friendly and who are at the top table at the EU cannot come to an agreement -- and I think it was very clear they were trying to persuade each other -- then I would think it would be even more unlikely that the present president of the EU can manage to do that with far more people."

Waltson was referring to a special summit of EU members and candidate states that is being advocated by current EU president Greece to deal with the Iraq crisis.

Another analyst, Aleksander Smolar of the Stefan Batory Foundation in Warsaw, said there may be a chance to heal the rift -- at least in part -- depending on European reaction to today's speech to the United Nations Security Council by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell intends to put forward what the U.S. administration sees as proof that the Baghdad regime is hiding or developing weapons of mass destruction.

Smolar said, "If the evidence presented by Secretary Powell is judged convincing, even if not final, then it can help reintegrate the European Union, in that I think that France, which is not pacifist by nature, [will join in]."

Smolar said that Germany will be harder to bring around to a pro-American position. He noted that antiwar feeling is deeply ingrained in the German psyche, still traumatized by World War II, and he also noted the hard line taken by Schroeder against military action. Schroeder has said Germany will not participate in any military move against Iraq, even if such action is approved by the UN Security Council. "Chancellor Schroeder already last autumn, during the general election, was very vocal and engaged himself in an openly antiwar position and against [military] operations against Iraq, and he has continued that line many times afterwards," Smolar said.

Waltson, in a somewhat different assessment, said he believes the evidence likely to be offered by Powell will probably not be sufficient to change entrenched European positions, mainly those of France and Germany.

The comparative isolation of France and Germany is likely to be emphasized by the expected publication at the United Nations tonight of a declaration in support of the U.S. by the "Vilnius-10" group. which includes Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. All are EU candidates or hopefuls.

Returning to the Greek presidency's idea for a large summit, Waltson believes it would be too broad to achieve much.

Greece says it is considering the possibility of calling a summit in mid-February that would include the 15 EU member states; 13 EU candidate countries, including Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey; and countries neighboring Iraq, such as Syria.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou disclosed the plan after talks in Damascus on the weekend. Waltson said that if those at the summit "are lucky and clever and they do well, they will produce an anodyne document, which will be the highest common factor, which will not be very high, between all the component parts."