‘Eight Musketeers’ split Europe asunder

Even before the first cruise missile has struck Baghdad, the first major piece of collateral damage has already occurred – as of Thursday morning, the EU’s common foreign policy appears to be dead, if not buried, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana’s duties no more than those of a Swiss admiral. In their joint article to 12 newspapers, the leaders of eight European countries (Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic) expressed their undivided support for the USA, pitting themselves, however indirectly, against the Franco-German axis. «This is how the Americans will lead and a few Europeans will follow,» commented the European Parliament’s Foreign Policy Chairman Elmar Brock, while a more outspoken Brussels diplomat spoke of a «Gang of Eight» and the German weekly Der Spiegel of the «Eight Musketeers.» The Frankfurter Rundschau said London was out looking for war-loving Europeans. Individual rhetoric, however, does nothing to change the substance of the issue. For the first time in its history, the EU appears to be tragically divided, with a considerable minority of countries standing to attention after US President Bush’s State of the Union speech, allowing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to take part in today’s war council with Bush at Camp David, not as the leader of faithful Old Albion but as a representative of, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it, «the new, pro-American Europe.» The reactions of powerful European states, chiefly Germany and France, to this breaking of ranks has been, at least until now, low-key. Paris and Berlin simply pointed out that the EU majority had not aligned itself with the other eight and expressed hopes regarding Europe’s already fragile cohesion. Only Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis as head of the EU presidency, embarrassed by his eight counterparts, found the courage to directly criticize the «mutiny,» winning praise from the German government which said it was of the same opinion as the Greek presidency and asked for the implementation of a common European position regarding a peaceful settlement of the Iraq conflict. Washington’s undoubted political victory is nevertheless at risk of leaving many potential trouble spots in its wake. The eight protagonists of the European «Good Guys’ Axis» find themselves having to deal with a public of which 82 percent, according to Thursday’s polls, are against the war. The three former communist countries in Central Europe who have aligned themselves with the USA are also on the eve of the final ratification of their EU membership and might be willing to bargain for their final position with the most generous buyer. But even in the USA itself, yesterday’s victory will have its price, although naturally the sole superpower’s global political and military clout allows Washington to make similar tactical strikes against anyone who questions it. However, the fact that the USA was forced, for the first time since the Second World War, to violate so brutally every pretense of an equal relationship with its traditional allies and to interfere so aggressively in European affairs, is not the best omen for the future of transatlantic relations. If the «new Europe» includes leaders, apart from the charismatic Tony Blair, representing the political recycling of Franco-ism or the communist bureaucracy, or who are supported by racist ultra-right parties, then the «old Europe» can still hope.