NEWS

East Europeans reminded by Chirac to toe Union line

French President Jacques Chirac, who outraged East Europeans in February by slamming their support for the US-led war on Iraq, warned the new EU members yesterday to do more to find common European stands. Speaking as 15 EU member states and 10 mostly ex-communist new members signed a treaty sealing the expansion of the bloc, Chirac said the new Europe must clarify its political ambitions to avoid the splits that emerged over the war. In his stunning tirade in February, Europe’s leading opponent of the war denounced East European countries as «not very well-behaved and reckless» for siding with Washington and declared they had «missed a great opportunity to shut up.» His more diplomatic approach at the signing ceremony at Athens’s Ancient Agora, or marketplace, was clearly aimed at the East Europeans with its call for the expanding Europe to maintain unity in its growing diversity. «This new Europe will not be able to fulfill our citizens’ expectations if, as we are seeing in the current crisis, its political ambitions are not clarified and its running is not extensively rethought,» he said. «The European Union is about more than just a large market, common policies, a single currency and free movement,» he said pointedly. «It is more importantly about a collective ambition, shared disciplines, firm solidarity and naturally looking to the European family.» There were few «shared disciplines» on display in the runup to the Iraq war, when Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined EU members Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Portugal in expressing support for US President George W. Bush. The so-called Vilnius 10 group of EU and NATO candidate countries also issued a pro-American statement at that time, further reinforcing the split with the anti-war camp of France, Germany and Belgium. Coming after Poland’s decision last December to choose US Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets over French and Anglo-Swedish rivals, these declarations raised concern in Paris that new members would add an unwanted pro-American faction into the EU. France, through its 40-year alliance with Germany, has long seen itself as the power that sets the tone in the EU, even though many members do not share its ambition to turn the bloc into a rival force challenging US leadership in the world. This feeling is especially strong in ex-communist Eastern Europe, where the future EU members lived for 45 years under Soviet domination and saw the United States as a crucial factor promoting the collapse of communism in 1989-1990. President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, which reacted strongly to Chirac’s tirade in February, obliquely referred to the spat in his speech by saying in passing, «We want Europe to be based on wise transatlantic ties.» But he and other East European leaders focused more on the historic treaty signing that would make them part of the Western club they were cut off from for so long. Recalling his country’s long struggle for freedom, including the 1956 uprising crushed by a Soviet invasion, Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said the EU’s eastward expansion was «a debt that destiny is paying back.»