EU credibility ‘at stake’

Athens has been preparing intensively for the emergency summit that Greece, the EU president, has called for Brussels on Monday, as well as a series of other meetings aimed at strengthening the EU’s unity and working toward a peaceful solution to the Iraq issue. On Sunday, Foreign Minister George Papandreou will meet with his Arab counterparts in Cairo. On Monday morning, the 15 EU foreign ministers will meet to prepare for the afternoon’s summit. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Costas Simitis will chair a meeting of the leaders of the 15 EU countries, 10 new members and three candidates. Simitis and Papandreou met yesterday for over three hours to prepare. With many EU members divided among themselves and at odds with Washington over the issue of Iraq, Greek officials have no illusions over what is at stake. «Our aim, and political will, is to go to Monday’s meeting in search of common ground,» Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis said. «If we are unable to shape a common stance on where the EU is going – we must be absolutely clear and not be afraid to describe things as they are – the EU will be plunged into a deep crisis.» But he stressed that Greece had to take the risk. Papandreou set out the aims of Monday’s meeting. «There are different approaches,» he said, regarding EU members. «We will discuss this on Monday and hope that we will be able to forge a common strategy and joint stand for our next steps. I am sure that the aim is the same – the total disarmament of Iraq. Our aim is to achieve a peaceful solution. The question is how close we can come to these goals, and how best to do this.» Alternate Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis, briefing the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday, noted that the EU’s identity was at stake. «The issue of Iraq not only concerns that country, the danger of its using weapons of mass destruction or the regional balance of power. At stake are the credibility of the EU, its interests, its role and its potential,» he said. «We must answer the question as to whether we will be able to bridge our differences. My answer is that I do not know if we can but that we have the duty to make the effort. And we have a duty to exhaust all possibilities to achieve this.» Papandreou canceled a visit to China that was to begin yesterday. He will attend the UN arms inspectors’ briefing to the Security Council tomorrow.