Europeans draw closer

In an historic series of meetings which included the accession of 10 new members to the European Union, the leaders of Europe met in Athens over two days, moved to bring their countries closer and sought to end the rift that opened between them over their backing or opposition to US policy on Iraq. Prime Minister Costas Simitis announced yesterday that the EU’s members had agreed to a text prepared by the Union’s Greek term presidency on the issue of Iraq. «This stresses that the United Nations must play a central role and must also play a role in the process that will lead to the self-determination of the Iraqi people, making use of (the UN’s) experience in postwar reconstruction of countries,» Simitis said. The text, he said, «was the result of intensive contacts which the presidency had with the other countries of the European Union.» Before the war in Iraq, the Greek presidency had also managed to forge a compromise between the different positions expressed by EU members. Significantly, this statement was drafted by Britain, France, Spain and Germany – who were on different sides of the prewar debate. It also called for «a successful conclusion» to the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. There was strong support for the UN’s role in Iraq in Athens. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was at the meeting of the European Conference, which brought together the heads of state and government of 40 European countries and also had the opportunity to meet with prominent European leaders, such as British PM Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Wednesday and French President Jacques Chirac yesterday. Simitis and Annan met last night and discussed the Cyprus issue, the Middle East and Iraq. At the end of the European Conference, Simitis noted that the countries involved had agreed on a joint declaration. «This declaration refers to a series of activities which we must work together to develop,» he said. «General ones, such as the protection of democracy, and specific ones, such as the development of European networks for transportation, energy, natural gas, and so on.» The Conference includes the EU’s 15 members, 10 new ones, three candidates, neighboring countries and Russia. «Our enlargement creates new neighbors. We want to have good relations with them, without creating new divisions,» Simitis said.