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EU: As Member States Go Separate Ways, Brussels Struggles To Revive Common Foreign Policy

  • Ahto Lobjakas

European Union foreign ministers yesterday resigned themselves to intractable differences over the looming war against Iraq. Officials insist, however, that the EU is already looking beyond the war by discussing ways of healing the deep rift at the heart of the bloc's common foreign policy. One of the cornerstones of future cooperation will be a revisited trans-Atlantic debate with the United States.

Brussels, 19 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- European Union foreign ministers yesterday gave up all pretense of unity on Iraq.

Among U.S. allies, governments in Britain and Denmark won parliamentary votes authorizing support for war without a UN mandate. Spain's foreign minister told her EU colleagues that Madrid is ready to commit 1,000 troops to the war effort, although she said they would not be used in "immediate fighting."

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told the Bundestag (the lower house of the German parliament) that the threat stemming from Iraq does not justify the "certain death" of thousands of innocent people.

President Jacques Chirac told France in a televised address that U.S. President George W. Bush's ultimatum to Iraq puts "world stability" at risk. However, the French Foreign Ministry said France would come to the aid of the United States should Iraq attack with chemical or biological weapons.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, yesterday spoke of his frustration in the face of discord among EU member states but insisted the bloc's common foreign and security policy can be saved. "I think a sort of sentiment of frustration is at least in my heart. The failure of a diplomatic process is always a frustration. But I think we have to take lessons out of this sentiment and try to look at elements that the European Union can unite [on], and continue working towards the future," Solana said.

Solana predicted a "very profound impulse" in the effort to revive EU unity in the coming days. He said a future common stance could be built around the existing consensus on the Middle East peace process and the shared concern about ensuring stability in the EU's immediate "neighborhood."

Yesterday's discussions among the foreign ministers are expected to lay the groundwork for top-level discussion of the Iraqi crisis at the EU's Brussels summit tomorrow and Friday (20-21 March).

The 48-hour deadline given by Bush to Saddam Hussein will expire early tomorrow, just hours before the summit begins. Nevertheless, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, speaking for the EU's current presidency, yesterday insisted the EU will continue efforts to avert war.

"Even at this last moment, I think a principled stand that the EU and the presidency has taken is that until the first bomb falls, we should hold out the hope that there can be a peaceful resolution. And anything that we can do -- anything that is in the realm of realistic possibilities -- we will do," Papandreou said.

Solana noted last night that four EU foreign ministers left directly after their Brussels talks for New York to attend a UN Security Council meeting today.

According to agency reports, Solana was mistaken, however, as only the German and French ministers opted to participate. Fellow Security Council members Britain and Spain will follow the example of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and stay away.

In a sign that war is inevitable, EU foreign ministers yesterday discussed aid to Iraq after the war. Papandreou stuck to the official EU line and did not directly confirm what some EU sources say is already a certainty -- that the EU will, contrary to earlier threats, finance at least some of the rebuilding work. He did say, however, that the discussions had concentrated "more" on humanitarian aid than reconstruction.

EU officials say the bloc is ready to release 20 million euros ($22.2 million) in immediate humanitarian assistance, with potentially more to follow. Papandreou yesterday said the UN must have a "central" role in postwar Iraq.

Yesterday, Papandreou and Solana said the EU must revive the trans-Atlantic dialogue with the United States. Papandreou said cooperation between the EU and the United States is essential for the security of the entire world. "I think it's high time after a period when we've gone beyond the Cold War and particularly after 11 September that we discuss these issues and see how we find a way of working together and looking at what the types of problems are and how they can be dealt with," Papandreou said.

Papandreou said sincere dialogue with the U.S. must address issues such as global security, world governance, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the complex ties between terrorism, local conflict, and poverty.

EU officials remain vague, though, on how easily the differences with the U.S. over Iraq can be buried. Yesterday, Solana hinted that the divergences with the United States go to the heart of how global threats are to be identified and dealt with. He rejected suggestions that Iraq could be compared to Kosovo -- where NATO intervened without a UN mandate -- saying the attack against Iraq will be a "preventive" war, whereas in Kosovo there was widespread demand among the Western public for action to put a stop to ethnic cleansing.

Both Papandreou and Solana stressed that a dialogue with the United States will only be possible if the EU can work out a viable long-term strategy for its common foreign policy. Papandreou said there is "general will" among EU governments to make the EU a "greater power than it is today." He predicted that public opinion within the EU to the Iraqi crisis has created an unstoppable dynamic.

"This whole crisis will bring out a different spirit in the European Union. Whether it's been in the streets, in articles, whether it's been in statements, you see that the citizens of Europe are more and more feeling the desire that Europe play a role in international affairs, in defense issues, in security issues. This has not been there in such prominence in the past years. And I think it's a new development which will change the face of Europe sooner or later." Papandreou said.