NEWS

A minimal position

European Union leaders, beginning their Spring Summit in Brussels last night, underlined their commitment to Iraq’s political stability, integrity and sovereignty, calling on all countries in the region «to refrain from any action which could lead to an increase in instability,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis informed reporters late last night. This joint statement, which is clearly addressed primarily to Turkey, but also Iran, was the furthest the deeply divided EU could go toward staking a common position on Iraq. The decision by France and Germany to spearhead opposition to the United States in the United Nations’ Security Council, and the equal determination by the United Kingdom and Spain to back the US resolve to use force, has split the EU and left it a disgruntled and powerless spectator of the war which began early yesterday. Earlier, Simitis and European Commission President Romano Prodi expressed their «deepest regrets» over the failure of diplomacy to prevent war. In a swipe at the United States, Prodi said that Europe «could not depend on others to defend its values, prosperity and security.» These defiant words reflected, if polls are to be believed, majority EU opinion, but could not hide the fact that EU sorely lacks an integrated foreign policy, that even the self-appointed defendants of its values primarily defend their own interests and expect others to fall in line and that, especially, Europe lacks the will to beef up its military presence to back up its claim of becoming a global player equal in status to the USA. Summit observers hoped that the EU’s debate over Iraq would limit itself to discussion of future developments, fearing that otherwise a public spat between the British and the French might lead to the summit’s collapse. As current president of the EU, Simitis tried to remind the participants that there were other items on the agenda, which should be tackled regardless of the crisis; failure to tackle them would reinforce the sense that the Iraq crisis had paralyzed the EU. Simitis rather overdid himself by insisting, in an earlier press conference, on discussing the agenda in detail, including the merits of a proposal on patents. This went unmentioned in foreign dispatches but caused a minor storm in Greece, with opposition parties accusing Simitis of failing to live up to his presidential duties. Opposition leader Costas Karamanlis, attending a meeting of European conservative parties, remarked that the EU had «failed once again» to take a unified stand on a major issue.