EU tug of war goes on

A day after chairing an EU summit which bridged the rift between differing groups of the Union’s members, Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday got the leaders of 13 countries that are soon to join the EU to endorse the conclusions of Monday’s summit. The EU’s leaders adopted a common position in which they warned Iraq that UN arms inspections could not continue indefinitely and that the EU would work with the United States to disarm Saddam Hussein – but they also stressed that war should be used only as a last resort. «We had an extensive and – I assure you – very friendly discussion. We have reached agreement and a common statement was issued on the basis of this,» Simitis said after yesterday’s meeting. The statement said, «The heads of state or government of the 13 acceding countries and candidate countries aligned themselves with the content of the conclusions adopted by the European Council on Iraq in its extraordinary meeting of 17 February.»  But Simitis once again found himself in the middle of two strongly opposed forces. French President Jacques Chirac infuriated the future members by deriding them as «irresponsible» for having signed statements earlier this month declaring their support for the United States. «It is not the behavior of those who are brought up well. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet,» Chirac said late on Monday, issuing a veiled threat that such actions could jeopardize eventual membership. On the other hand, British PM Tony Blair sent a letter to the 13 leaders, voicing regret that they had not been invited to the summit. Since Blair had canvassed countries to sign the declaration supporting the US, this was likely to cause the Greek presidency embarrassment. «As you know, I had argued that you should be present and able to contribute fully to the debate,» Blair said in his letter. A Greek source told Agence France-Presse that the presidency had not been informed beforehand. «Candidate states do not participate in the EU institutions,» Simitis said. «This is a wise rule because it is only when they fully commit themselves… that one can demand rights and exercise them.» Cyprus, Malta, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are to join the EU in 2004. Other candidates are Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. The New Democracy party called the summit’s conclusions «a positive development, as long as things continue in this way.» The Communist Party accused Greece of being «just as guilty as the USA in the war they are preparing for oil and geopolitical control of the Middle East.»