The EU Gang of Four – Part III

Germany was the odd-man-out at the recent defense summit between the German and French presidents and Belgian and Luxembourgian premiers: Chancellor Schröder’s government has been the one trying the hardest for a rapprochement with the American administration after the divisions caused by the War in Iraq. Indeed, as Anke Bryson notes in the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung Weekly, both Schröder and his foreign minister Joschka Fischer wanted to keep this “mini-summit” a low-profile affair, out of respect for the sensibilities of the Bush Administration – “but the publicity damage had already been done.”

We’ve seen how elements of the French press took this meeting seriously, while the Belgian press was more cynical, doubting that anything would ever come of this summit taking place on its own soil. Whatever the sotto voce protestations of German officials, they did accept the invitation to attend the Brussels meeting and did show up there. It’s time to check the German press’ reactions.

Writing in the FAZ, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger is very critical. Was this all about a Spalter-Gipfel, he asks – a “division-summit”? It’s strange that the participants happen to be precisely those countries (minus Luxembourg) in the forefront of opposing American designs on Iraq. Unfortunately, Frankenberger writes, “Germany, Luxemburg, Belgium and France – that is hardly any sufficient basis of power upon which Europe can pursue a Weltpolitik, or “global strategy.” Great Britain (or at least Poland) was needed at this summit for anyone to take it seriously – but unfortunately, not only were both those two absent, but they were at the same time rather suspicious of the whole idea.

And what about this new policy-making pattern: small groups of individual states meeting to come up with policy, and then inviting the rest of the EU to join along? That may be the way the EU will be forced to make progress when it has 25 members or more, but Frankenberger points out that it is hardly the way for Europe to “speak with one voice,” which was supposed to be the big geopolitical lesson for the EU coming out of the Iraq crisis. Indeed, the FAZ’s straight news story on the summit cited Schröder as claiming that eine Reihe von Partnern – “a whole series of partners” – from among the other EU member-states and candidate-states had already expressed their interest in the sort of European Security Union which the “mini-summit” envisaged, but that he couldn’t actually name any names. This of course echoes George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” – numbering among its proud members a number of South Sea islands – which American officials liked to mention during the war – without actually naming any names – to show what wide support it supposedly enjoyed around the world.

Back to the Brussels summit: The leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel takes a sanguine view of what went on there. Naturally there was no threat intended to NATO – why, the four heads of state even held the summit’s concluding press conference in the ballroom of the American-owned Brussels Hilton! To this Der Spiegel adds another Schröder quote: “I’m proceeding on the assumption that all 25 are interested,” he said, referring to the number of EU member-states plus candidate-states and to the “mini-summits” proposals for a European defense initiative. Predictably, though, opposition politician Wolfgang Schäuble (foreign policy and defense spokesmen for the CDU) was less kind: “the wrong initiative at the wrong time,” he called it in a television interview.

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