The heads of state of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg met yesterday in Brussels to launch a new European defense initiative for a multinational force to flesh out the European Union’s foreign and security policies. Presidents Chirac and Schröder and Prime Ministers Verhofstadt and Juncker took pains to emphasize that they were not acting against NATO nor against that alliance’s senior partner, the United States.
Of course, besides Luxembourg, it is true that these were the European countries in the forefront of opposition to America and its “coalition of the willing” as they undertook their assault on Iraq. And many do intrepret this as an anti-NATO gesture – the Times of London‘s foreign editor Bronwen Maddox speaks of a “direct hit on Nato” and “payback time” for these four countries. What do the countries involved have to say for themselves?
In France, Le Monde places the Brussels meeting in the context of two competing visions of Europe, held by Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair. Chirac sees Europe as one of the centers or “poles” of world power, joining the United States, China, India, and Latin America, and on 29 April in Brussels he established a “pioneering group” to start making his own conception of Europe into reality. (It’s refreshing how the pro forma declarations by the four leaders present that they did not intend to harm NATO are brushed off in this analysis as not worthy of repetition or consideration.) Unfortunately for him, though, not only does Tony Blair’s conception of Europe – that it should stand in the world together with the United States to defend liberal democracy world-wide against forces of disorder – enjoy more popularity among current and future EU member-states, but Chirac’s idea is impossible without the active participation of Europe’s strongest military power – the UK. Its future is therefore bleak.
On the other hand, in its analysis Le Figaro devotes quite a lot of attention to the efforts of the four heads of state to reassure on the question of competition with NATO. It quotes several soothing statements made by them to that effect, for not only do they not want to alarm the US, they also have to have a mind towards recruiting other EU member-states (especially the UK) to their common defense project. They claim just to be a sub-group of EU members coming up with proposals to improve the EU’s foreign and security policy, just like it was only a few states which originally came up with the idea for a common European currency.
Of course, Le Figaro also finds it no coincidence that these were the countries that formed the hard core of resistance to America’s plans to invade Iraq. The careful, consensual approach they are taking the magazine finds considers as essentially forced on them, given the institutional environment within the EU where they have to maneuver.