Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Europe Puissance of French Dreams (Identity Located in Bumping Heads with Uncle Sam) Takes Another Blow

In his weekly column for the International Herald Tribune, John Vinocur describes how the anti-American bloc received another blow at the EU. In the process, he shows how, in many ways, France and Germany's leaders seem totally oblivious, blind, and/or insensitive to the views and feelings of their partners.
With the help of NATO loyalists like Britain, Denmark and Portugal, plus the weight of Chirac's clumsy bullying of new EU and NATO members from the former Soviet bloc, the French-German [anti-war] plan unraveled within less than a month.

The circumstances around the effort's collapse not only confirmed the instincts of Schröder and Chirac and their concern that American influence was going to be the big winner in the EU's expansion to 25 members. More, it profoundly marked those new members from the East, who regarded the French and Germans as willing to undermine the U.S. presence in Europe — the single credible guarantee of their sovereignty, in the view of the old Warsaw Pact group.

Now, just a year later, an EU summit meeting has produced approval of a draft constitution that in no way turns the Europeans into a united world player, pressed eye-to-eye against the Americans. Alongside this nonconfrontational text came the rejection of a French- and German-backed candidate for the job of president of the EU's Executive Commission. …

The EU constitution that will be submitted to the member states for ratification over the next two years gives individual countries the power to veto decisions on foreign affairs and defense, which means no EU security policy constructed in opposition to America has much chance of success. At the same time, the Executive Commission's president, who communicates much of the community's day-to-day attitudes, will not be someone with the ideological baggage of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, the French-German choice, who described Europe's "emancipation" from the United States on security matters as both "inevitable and desirable."

In their own minds, Schröder and Chirac, who led the German chancellor but was less frank in referring to his motives, may have correctly identified their European stakes in relation to the Americans. But the reverberations of their joint Iraq policy concerning Europe's future have gone demonstrably against them. …

In an analysis and an editorial, [Libération] said that, for lack of any common political will, the constitution was largely empty of new integrating force and that the Europe it reflected would not be a political power. Although Libération did not describe this power further, it is the Europe Puissance of French dreams (and possibly some of Schröder's) that locates the EU's identity in bumping heads with the United States. …

Verhofstadt embodied the will of France and Germany to find a victory that would deflect the obviousness of a constitution that mandates no great new European power role. … According to a European cabinet minister, Blair told Chirac at the G-8 summit meeting at Sea Island, Georgia, barely a week earlier that the Belgian was out of the question. But Chirac remained so fixed on his nomination, the cabinet minister said, that France privately proposed to Poland inserting a reference to Christianity in the EU constitution in exchange for its support of Verhofstadt.

Something on the order of proposing to trade Corsica for Gdansk, the offer went nowhere, the minister said.

Schröder also remained adamant on Verhofstadt. Since Verhofstadt was described among Atlanticists as having a view strongly opposing what is now the European mainstream's notion of getting along with America, this raised the question among Germany's neighbors of Schröder's sincerity in saying recently that he does not want a European counterweight to the United States. To make sure no one could miss his take on what the battle had been all about, Verhofstadt coupled an announcement that he was giving up on his candidacy … with a suggestion that it was the fault of the Americans and their European toadies. …

None of this suggested that efforts wouldn't be made to find a Verhofstadt-like substitute for the next round of bartering on the commission presidency, or that a small, new EU military planning cell won't try to puff itself up with French urging to rival NATO over the long haul.

But a Europe defined in contradiction to the United States has found no new life in what is now the EU's draft constitution. …

In the meantime, Le Monde's article on the latest news in the search for an Executive Commission president is written in a totally partisan tone of voice (the journalist hailing Verhofstadt appears to be Belgian), describing Belgium's prime minister as a hapless victim — "tired, bitter, and shocked by the attitude [and intransigeance] of certain states" — whereas the attitude of Tony Blair is described, in so many words, as gratuitious.

Read The Economist's description of France's
attitude toward its fellow EU member states

Read about Le Monde's partisan take
on the EU controversy
(in French)

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